About tad

Retired United Church Minister. Born in Japan, came to Canada and worked in Vancouver, Lesotho, South Africa, Geneva, Switzerland, Toronto, Canada, and Montreal, Quebec. Married to Muriel Mellow. One daughter and two grand daughters.

Idol worship: a big mistake

NOBODY IS PERFECT
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

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

LET’S ADMIT IT: WE ARE RACISTS.
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.

CANADA – COUNTRY BUILT BY REFUGEES

CANADA: A COUNTRY OF REFUGEES

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!

DON’T CONFUSE ME WITH FACTS. WHY DO WE DENY FACTS?

WHY WE DENY UNDENIABLE FACTS

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.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS TORTURE

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?

REDUNDANCY

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?

MUST I FORGIVE A FRIEND WHO KILLED FRIENDS?

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

WORDS ARE NO LONGER RELIABLE

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

A GLORIOUS MISUNDERSTANDING
“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?

ARE WE HEADING FOR A WRONG DIRECTION?

“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?

MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAY

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.

PEOPLE MUST BUILD THEIR OWN DEMOCRACY

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 – OUTDATED RULES ? OR STILL VALID.

LEVITICUS – Book of Rules

– MOSTLY OUT DATED BUT SOME ARE STILL PRECIOUS –

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 ENVIRONMENT AND CUTE-FACTOR

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

LET US NOT HONOUR TERRORISTS WITH RELIGIOUS DESIGNATION

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.

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN!

WE KNEW BUT DID NOTHING

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

WALLS DON’T WORK 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 moey? 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.

REINVENTING MISSIONARY

WHERE IS MISSIONARY?
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.

BETTER TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE

BETTER TO GIVE THAN 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.

Dummy Company and Offshore Bank Account

THE PANAMA PAPERS

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

METHINKS:

“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.

THOSE WHO CLAIM TO HAVE A COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD ARE DELUSIONAL OR LYING.

Methinks:

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

WHY DO WE SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF?

WHY RELIGIONS FIGHT OVER SMALL STUFF?

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.

WHO BECOME TERRORISTS?

HOW OUR YOUTHS BECOME TERRORISTS

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.

HOW DID SAUL WHO HATED CHRISTIANS BECOME APOSTLE FOR CHRIST?

JEWISH SAUL MET RISEN CHRIST
AND BECAME CHRISTIAN PAUL

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

CAN YOU CHANGE?

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.

FORGIVE US OUR DEBT?

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

STEPHEN, THE FIRST CHRISTIAN MARTYR
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

THE CHURCH BEGAN AS 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

CHANGES ARE NORMAL BUT THEY HAVE TO BE BASED ON THE PAST

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?

WHO AM I ?

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

RETURN TO SOUTHERN 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

BETTER TO GIVE THAN 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.

Remember history when you vote

HOW WILL WE VOTE, IF WE REMEMBER?

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.”

LET THERE BE PEACE – FOR ISRAEL TO SURVIVE

I CRY FOR ISRAEL

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

RESPECTABLE LANGUAGE IS MORE EFFECTIVE

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.

QUALITY MATTERS

QUALITY MATTERS

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

CHANGES ARE NORMAL BUT THEY HAVE TO BE BASED ON THE PAST

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

POVERTY IS THE CAUSE OF PROBLEMS

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?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT ANGER

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.

 

 

 

 

IS CANADA A DIFFERENT COUNTRY?

I WANT MY CANADA BACK.

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

THE BIBLE AND MORALITY

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

WHO IS A TERRORIST?

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?

MINISTRY

MINISTRY: THEN AND NOW

– 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

Preamble:

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.

NO HUMAN IS INFALLIBLE

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.

 

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN? – CHRISTMAS 2014

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

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.

SYSTEM VICTIMISES THE VICTIMS

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?

ASSISTED SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA

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?

SUICIDE

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.

READING THE BIBLE LITERALLY

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.

 

 

 

 

BARBARIC RELIGIONS

DEMISE OF RELIGION WAS HIGHLY EXAGERATED

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.

 

 

 

IS THERE UNIVERSAL VALUE?

IS THERE UNIVERSAL VALUE?  OR IS IT A MERE MIRAGE?

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.

PLIGHT OF PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND

SOME CHRISTIANS ARE PERSECUTED FROM MANY SIDES

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

 

HATE EVIL NOT PEOPLE

HAZARD OF HUMILIATING PROUD PEOPLE

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?

ARE WE REALLY THE MOST ADVANCED SPECIES?

 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

REDEFINING ECONOMICS

ECONOMY SHOULD NOT BE JUST ABOUT MONEY

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.

 

FREEDOM OF LABOUR MARKET OR PRESERVATION OF TRADITIONAL VALUES

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.

 

 

THE NAME OF GOD: WHY THE FUSS?

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.

HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD, BUT HOW?

JESUS DIED BUT CAME BACK BUT HOW?

– 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

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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

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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DEATH?

DEATH IN THE BIBLE

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

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

SCHLEMMBESSERUNG

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.

LOVE IS THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD WORD

TELL ME WHAT LOVE IS ABOUT

IN THE BIBLE THERE IS NO ONE WORD FOR IT

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.

ARE WE BETTER OFF?

RE WE BETTER OFF?

“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.

WHAT WILL WE CELEBRATE IN WINTER? CHRISTMAS? HANUKKAH?

CELEBRATING WINTER HOLIDAY

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

CHRISTMAS IN THE BIBLE

MYTH OR HISTORY

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?

AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW

– 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.

BUDDHISM

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.”

Interpretation:

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.

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I can be quite wrong, and I am happy.

I AM HAPPY  I WAS WRONG

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.

IF THERE IS GOD, WHY THERE’S SO MUCH SUFFERING OF THE INNOCENT PEOLE?

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.

NOT ASKING WHY CAN COST YOU DEARLY

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ASKING WHY?

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.

A 22 YEAR OLD JEWISH WOMAN WHO CHANGED JAPAN

THE 22 YEARS OLD JEWISH  WOMAN WHO CHANGED JAPAN FOREVER

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.

ARE THE HUMANS ON TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN?

EVOLUTION

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.

RAPE IS NOT FUNNY

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

–  TEENAGER SUICIDE, BOSTON BOMBING, WOMEN RESCUED AFTER A DECADE –

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.

GUN CONTROL IN THE UNITED STATES

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.

THIS GOD IS A WOMAN

THE WORDS OF WISDOM

– 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

PRIESTS AND PROPHETS

– 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.

IS IT TOO EMBARRASSING TO REMEMBER IRAQ WAR?

A view of  Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 2003

A view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 2003

R001-008

10th ANNIVERSARY OF THE INVASION OF IRAQ

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?

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT EASTER?

HE DIED BUT CAME BACK TO LIFE

– 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,

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ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WILL NOT CHANGE IF CURIA DOES NOT CHANGE

POPES COME AND GO, BUT CURIA STAYS.

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.

BREASTS OF CHRIST

BREASTS OF CHRIST.

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?

WHY NEIGHBOURS HATE EACH OTHER?

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.

WALLS ARE WASTEFUL, AND DO NOTHING TO PREVENT DISASTER.

REFLECTION ON WALLS

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?

SHOULD A MURDER BE FORGIVEN? AN OLD DEBATE ABOUT FAITH v.s. DEEDS

THE DEBATE GOES ON

– The first fight of the Christian Church: Paul verses James –

When you advocate rehabilitation as the primary purpose of the criminal justice, you are speaking like St. Paul.  On the other hand when you insist on  punishment fit for crime, you represent St. James’ point of view.

The two letters; one by Paul to the Galatians and the other by James addressed to all Christians represent two opposing views that split the first Century Christians into two camps.   The question is so universal that the same debate continues even today not only in the Christian Church but also in the society general, as in the current debate about crime and punishment.  In the first century church, it was manifested in a debate between faith verses deeds.  Among the Buddhists, the same split exists: those who believe in achieving Nirvana through self-help – meditation and good work in Mahayana Buddhism verses those believe the need for mercy of Amida like Jodo-Shinshu Buddhism.

The New Testament letter by Paul to the Galatians is an angry letter.  In Galatians 3: 1-6 Paul called them “stupid.”  What a language to find in the Bible!  He felt that the people in Galatia – the Western region of the present day Turkey betrayed him by reverting back to the old ways.  Paul represented the group of Greek speaking Christians who lived outside of Palestine.  They included the diaspora Jewish Christians as well as Gentiles ( non-Jews) who converted to Christianity.  Because the Good News of Jesus Christ first started to spread amongst diaspora Jews who heard the new teaching by Jesus’ Apostles in Synagogues, they continued to live in the Jewish life-style after they had accepted Christian Gospel: observing traditions like circumcision, kosher food, and the moral code of ethics instituted by Moses and recorded in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament.  They must have perceived the way of Jesus Christ as a reformed Judaism.

A serious question was raised when the non-Jewish Christians began to increase very fast in number.  The question was: Should they become Christians without becoming Jews?  Should they be circumcised, if they are men, before they are baptized?  Should they continue to eat their own food they were used to disregarding the Kosher regulations? Paul and his friends said that it’s optional, so long as they accepted Jesus as the Messiah.  They thought the sacrificial love shown by Jesus on the cross made the laws of Moses redundant.  What is the most important is faith in Christ and his forgiving love.

On the other hand, those Jewish Christians who lived in Palestine, sticking to their original belief in the laws of Moses, insisted that the followers of Jesus Christ were still descendants of Abraham in faith and had to follow the Law of Moses.  The good deeds according to the Torah, that included ritualistic practices like circumcision, kosher food,  and head-cover, still are the essential part of the way to the salvation.  This group of Christians was led by James, a brother of Jesus.  They were the church in Jerusalem.  James was incensed when he saw what looked like apostasy in the fast growing new Christ movement outside of Palestine, particularly amongst gentile Christians.  He thought it was a belief without roots, faith without fitting conducts.  So the Church in Jerusalem sent out teachers to correct the wrong teaching in the scattered churches in Asia Minor.

The dispute became so serious that the General Council of all Apostles and representatives of the all churches was called by Peter and James in Jerusalem to address the issue. (Acts chapter 15) Paul and Barnabas were sent from the church in Antioch to represent the Christians outside of Jerusalem and Palestine.  Peter urged the assembly to affirm the basic belief of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that all were saved through the love of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 15:11) Paul and Barnabas followed Peter by informing the assembly all the wonderful things happening to the churches throughout the Roman Empire, with the increasing numbers of gentile Christians. People were impressed and fell silent.  James at the end declared not to trouble those gentiles who were turning to God, providing that they observe a few basic moral and ritualistic codes. (Acts 15: 13 – 21)

However, the fight has never ended.  The earliest fight between Jerusalem and the rest of the Roma Empire fizzled out when the Church in Jerusalem became so impoverished and eventually drastically diminished, while the Church in the wider Roman Empire grew in leaps and bound.  In fact, growth in the church in Antioch, which was initially considered to be the headquarters of the Christians outside of Palestine, was so fast  that the name “Christian” was labelled against them as a derogatory nickname.   It shows how passionate their practice of faith was.  The name meant something like “Christ-crazed gang”, because they spoke about Christ all the time. (Acts 11:26)  However, the same debate was taken over by the split between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in the late Middle Age.  I don’t want to go into the lengthy explanation of the dispute between the Protestant position of “faith alone” and the Roman position of importance of “good deeds”  The point is: the debate never went away.

In Galatians 2:16, Paul says: “A person is put right with God only through our faith in Jesus Christ, not by doing what law requires.”

In the meantime, James says: “What good is it for someone to say that he has faith if actions do not prove it?  Can that faith alone save him?” (James 2:14)

Martin Luther didn’t think too much of James, he being a founder of Protestantism.  He called the Letter of James “just a strand of worthless straw.”

Should we forget the importance of good deeds completely?  A good question!  Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks that the laws in Canada are too lenient: criminals are getting away with murder.  There is a limit to faith.  He is changing the laws incrementally to let the criminals pay for the crime in stead of victims suffer, because deeds matter.  Many people have problem with that.

The debate continues.

HOW RELIGION BECAME ENTERTAINMENT. HOW SPORTS BECAME BAD FOR HEALTH,

SOMETHING SHOULD NOT BE JUST A BACKDROP

We were enjoying a company of family and close relatives after Christmas dinner; soft Christmas music was in the background, playing Crossword Puzzle or just chatting with a dram of Scotch in hand.  A lovely time indeed.  At one point my brother-in-law asked us to  turn off the music.  We didn’t understand him.  Why could he not enjoy a nice soft  music in the background?  Nonetheless we felt we should respect his wish, for a while anyway, and turned the music off.  He is a musician – a classic guitarist.  At that moment suddenly I remembered similar situations where professional musicians did not want background music.

A sister of mine is a church organist.  She played organ at the church or taught music all her life.  Her home is often very quite devoid of the sound of music.  When music is on, she does not do anything else but listen to it.  Recently, my wife Muriel and I had a lovely visit with a couple of good friends who are both professional musicians.  She is a flautist and he a composer.  Music is their calling, their life.  While enjoying tea and conversation, I suddenly felt total silence as loud as any auditory sensation we can detect.  Even our hushed voices were interruptions.  I asked her if hers was the same disposition as my sister’s.  She said, “yes.”  She said that art of creating music is her calling, a serious business indeed.  Her mind is full of sound all the time.  For her music can not be a mere backdrop.  I now realize that I have changed since I was a child growing up in Japan.

When I was growing up, music was very important in my family.  We made music together, Mom at a cranky old reed organ.  We could not afford a piano nor a gramophone with a Methodist minister’s salary.   Dad led us singing hymns and Stephen Forster’s “Old Black Joe” or some such American old time favourites.  We still remember many Japanese folk songs Dad taught us.  We made music.  We listened to my sister playing piano in the church hall after she practised hours for a recital, critically but respectfully.  We listened to music not as a background but as an art that deserved a serious attention.

There is an old movie about the life of Frederick Chopin played by Cornel Wilde. One scene described a scene where Chopin was playing piano at a dinner for an arch-duke from Russia or somebody like that who was a foreign occupier.  Chopin angrily walks out in the middle as no one was paying attention to his music.  He becomes a marked man since then and had to go into exile.  I always feel bad for a musician playing at restaurants providing background music.  Music is their calling but it is diners’ mere backdrop.  It is like preaching at a soup kitchen.  I did that once, in front of homeless people eating dinner.  What an useless and unrewarding experience.   Understandably eating was the most serious preoccupation for them.  A sermon was an annoying nuisance in the background.  Consumer culture has made art into a mere backdrop, not an uniquely human act of creation.  We hardly make art anymore, we consume it.

I can not pinpoint an exact time when music became a mere mood creating background for me.  I think it was after Americans brought the kind of soft music that was played in the background, during the fifties.  I remember calling it “mood music.”  It took a little while for me to learn not to pay serious attention to the music in order to continue uninterrupted whatever I was doing.  Of course, background music has always been with us, in movies, in theatres, and in restaurants, but “mood music” was something else.  It is meant to be ignored but to help us do something else more efficiently  like wall paper.  It took some work, but now I mastered the art of ignoring the mood making backdrop.  Now our home is full of music, all the time.  I don’t even know what’s on a lot of the time.  We have become consumers of art hardly knowing how to make art.  Art has become something professionals make not us.  We consume what they make.

Likewise, we don’t do many things ourselves anymore, what we used to do them ourselves: such as sports, religion, cooking, entertainment, and art.  In the meanwhile we, have lost opportunity to exercise our own creativity.  We are losing joy of creating things and of participating in them.

Sports for us is not for our health: we watch them.  We sit in front of a television set on a couch eating junk food and consuming gallons of beer.  Sport has become bad for our health.  Religion has become an entertainment industry.  People look around like we do at a supermarket and pick the one that entertains us well with good preaching and music. Leaders of religion are now performers.  Like entertainment, those churches and religions that attract more people hence better income are considered to be “successful”.  Those don’t are failures.  It’s a business model.  “Love thy neighbour” no more.  We don’t understand the meaning of commitment, dedication, and service, no more sacrifice.  Religion has become a way to pursue happiness.  Others be damned.   We are saved, fulfilled, and happy, thank you very much.

I do love beautiful and soothing music in the background.  It’s one way to appreciate artistic creation.  However, when you love making music, you can appreciate other people making it more.  When you play a sport yourself, you appreciate the dedication and the skills of professional athletes more.  Art is not just a backdrop like wall paper.  Music is not a mere background.  Religion is not entertainment.  It’s a calling.  It’s life itself.

WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT : SO CONFLICT IS NORMAL. THEN WHY DO WE FIGHT?

(Note)  This is a work in progress.  Your suggestion will be appreciated.)

CONFLICT IS NORMAL

Conflicts are always around us, and many of  them seem irreconcilable:  Israelis versus Palestinians, environmentalists versus apologists for the industries, advocates for free market versus ones for government interventions, Pro-Life anti-abortionists versus Pro-Choice advocates for women‘s rights, Creationists versus Evolutionists, Democrats versus Republicans, and many others.  On the micro level. There are constant battles between sexes, between friends and neighbours.  Problem is few are interested in finding justice or truth.  All are determine to win, right or wrong.

I hate conflicts.  Conflicts had always affected me badly be they the ones I was involved in as well as the ones other people were.  So my approach had always been avoidance.  It was only after retirement I realized that conflicts were normal human conditions.  We are individuals, not an uniform and corporate personality.  Humans are all different from each other with unique ideas, opinions, and ways.  We all like our ways to prevail because we all think, “my way is just and the best.”   Hence there is always conflict.  If there is no conflict, something is wrong: you are living under tyranny in total frustration.   The most important question in such a situation is  how to deal with a difference without a fight.   I believe that the answer is to learn to live with difference and in ambiguity.

We love power, because power gives us an ability to prevail over others. We seem to prefer winning and prevailing over other than finding justice or truth.  Many conflicts seem irreconcilable.  Fighting it out seems to be the only way to reach a quick resolution.  The winner gets an instant gratification of feeling that they are just.  We don’t seem to have patience to live in ambiguity.  Neither side is ready to live with difference.  We want to overrun the difference and prevail.  We aim to win, be it in court, family, between friends.  We exercise wilful blindness where there is a gap in our arguments.  “Don’t confuse me with facts.  My mind is made up.”  Somehow we think that power allows us to ignore gaps and contradictions.  Dialogue is impossible as the result.  Thus, fighting continues in many venues.

During the yesteryears, our ancestors applied rough justice called “trial by combat.”  It was determined that the winner was just and the loser was guilty.  It is totally barbaric and irrational.  Sages of old like Socrates, Jesus, or Mohamed rejected such notion through their own self sacrifice by crucifixion or martyrdom.  But barbarism continues.   Just listen to the popular sayings:  “You can get away with murder if you can afford an expensive lawyer” “Victory proved that the winner was right.”  The victim is truth and justice in such process.

Lately, we have become a little bit more civilized and do not burn heretics at stake.  It didn’t used to be like that.  I remember as a child in Japan hearing stories of folk heroes who were executed for insolence: they wrote appeals to Daimyo – feudal lords.  Dissension was not permitted during those days.

Democracy means a licence to differ.  Freedom of speech means our society is a mixed bag, we are all different and have different ideas but agree to co-exist peacefully.  If the road is too narrow to walk together all at once, compromise is the solution.  Nobody is 100 % happy, but we have to agreed to live with inconvenience.  It is messy and sometime chaotic, but that’s how we live in democracy.  We do not want to live dictated by one person or a minority of people.

Another barrier to coexistence of differences is our unwillingness to change.  Somehow we feel that change is a result of defeat and  a sign of weakness .  We feel we should be ashamed of ourselves when we change.  That is actually nonsense because everything changes constantly.  Many sages of yore said that change is natural and normal.  Heracleitus, Gautama Buddha, and Jesus of Nazareth all proclaimed that the world was constantly changing like a river.  I think that inability to change is a sign of cowardice and weakness.  We and all around us are changing all the time.  But we are reluctant to admit that we have changed, but we have.

When we learn to live in ambiguity and are brave enough to admit that ours may not be permanent, we will be able to see the logic in other points of views, we will be able to realize that we are not all that different from each other.  It will take a long time.  But there is hope.

RELIGION IS AN INVENTION OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

RELIGION IS AN INVENTION OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not an atheist.  Anyone, who claims categorically that there is no god because there is no scientific evidence to prove the existence of God, is extremely short sighted to the point of being unscientific.  It is like concluding that what you see with a flashlight in the dark sky is everything that exists.  In Japan, this sort of shortsightedness is compared to a frog who lives in a well all its life.  This frog thinks that what he sees from the bottom of the well is the whole world and the tiny patch of blue sky he sees from the bottom of the well is the whole outer space.

At the same time, anyone who claims to know who god is delusional and a liar.  A search for the absolute truth or in whatever the word you want to call god is a never ending continual process.  No human has found God.  Religion is not a knowledge.  It’s a belief.   It is an everlasting human endeavour to find the absolute truth, the divine being, or whatever you may want to call such a being.  Christians believe that in Jesus God revealed himself/herself completely.  I personally believe that.  The problem is the knowledge of Jesus is so diverse that it is impossible to know God through the literature available to us about Jesus.  But that is all we have.   So I keep following the hints presented to us in the Bible and continue my search.  Again it is an everlasting process.

As for the Bible, though it is the only thing we have, it is very difficult to find what the authors of the Bible were trying to say, because it is an ancient literature.  Richard Holloway, the Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh, said in his book Between the Monster and the Saint, “I found it helpful to think of it (religion) as a product of human imagination.”   In that sense, I like to compare the Bible with a historical novel.  It was written based on a certain number of historical facts.  And each facts is connected to each other with the author’s imagined or invented narratives in order  to express his or her ideas.  There are some facts contained in the Bible to be sure, but the point of the Bible like the historical novel is to make a point, not record and report facts.  The Bible is not a book to find historical facts, neither does it present science.

In fact, the writers of the Bible never intended, neither were they interested, to report the factually accurate accounts of history.  They intended to express their ideas through their perception of what might have happened in the past.  They interpreted events freely and sometimes twisted and invented facts to suit the purpose.  They did not intend to report on their scientific findings.  This is why some accounts of the same events are contradictory and are varied.  Many parts of the Bible are made up stories and poems.  In that sense, I am not afraid to say that the Bible is a collection of stories, parables, and poetry which may include some facts.  But reporting the facts are not the purpose of the Bible.  Let us leave the discovery of historical or scientific facts to the historians and archeologists and leave the Bible to those who seek the absolute, the ultimate, the meaning of our existence.

This is why I am not a literalist who believes that the Bible is the word of God, and every fact and word must be taken as literally correct and true.  Yes, the Bible contains the word of God, but it is by pointing the direction where God is through many efforts of those who were seeking the absolute truth.

One unfortunate consequence of the development of science and technology is the resultant devaluation of art.  People tend to value what they can see and touch more than imagination and inspiration invoked by artistic expressions.  Science and art are equally important in our search for truth.  But because people tend to think science is real and art is superfluous, they try hard to force a round peg of religion through a square hole of science.  This is the tragedy of our time.

Christmas in Africa

NO CHRISTMAS SHOPPING IN AFRICA

– Celebrating love without Christmas tree nor turkey-

I lived for eight years in Lesotho, Southern Africa.  During Christmas, if  someone comes to your door and says “Kresmese! (Christmas!)” he is not wishing you a “Merry Christmas.”  He was asking for a hand-out.  It wrecked my romantic image of Christmas in Africa.  But soon I realized that my idea of Christmas needed a revision.  Birth of Christ was not nice nor neat.  There was no romance, but there was love.

Christmas comes in the middle of the summer in Southern Africa.  Temperatures can go up to the 40 degrees C and above.  The celebration awaits the cool air of the night.  “Carols in the Candle Light” is a very popular community event in the whole of Southern Africa.  Summer nights in South Africa are very dark but the skies are full of stars because there is no pollution.  People gather in town squares and soccer fields, sing Christmas Carols in the light of candles, and stage the Christmas pageants.

The pageants performance looks truly authentic.  The scenes described in the Bible must have looked like that of the one in Lesotho.  Animals are everywhere: Cattle, donkeys, horses, goats, pigs, and sheep roam everywhere in the soccer field.  Mary rides on a real donkey.  When the Bible mentions a stable the Basotho know it isn’t a pretty sight with a smell of  hay, stale milk, and manure.

Shepherds come with real sheep.   The audience knows how shepherds look like. Shepherds are everywhere in Lesotho, in the mountains, in the fields, or passing through the city streets.  They look like homeless people: rags on their backs, dirty, smelly, and always hungry. They are shunned by decent citizens and chased by dogs like thiefs.    They wear no bath robes.

The wise men of the East arrive on real horses.   In Africa, well dressed educated intellectuals are often seen as opportunistic and arrogant as they ride around in Mercedes.   When ordinary folks in Lesotho hear of wise men giving up everything to pursue what they believed to be the truth, they have a tremendous respect for such men.  For them, it is one of the miracles of Christmas.

The women know how to give birth without professional help, because that’s what they do with grannies and girls doing what they can.  When I saw the little girls play a nativity scene in a church, I was a bit taken aback.  They knew exactly what a birthing scene was like, so they played as it should look and sound like.  However, they also knew about an adept use of blankets to provide privacy, as blankets are integral part of their daily attire.  There was nothing inappropriate to stage a birth in the church.

As for dinner, Basotho meals are simple.  Their staple is “millipap” – white corn mill cooked into solid lump and eaten with yoghurt.   When they have extra cash, they can indulge in “stompo” – grains of white corn stewed slowly with beans, beef fat and salt with a bit of  curry.  Our

Christmas dinner doesn’t work so well in Lesotho.  Remember, Christmas comes in South Africa in the middle of extreme heat.  By the time the turkey is cooked, one gets sick of the

heat and the smell.

Gifts were mostly hand-made.  There was no store nearby where we lived first in Lesotho: we had no car either.  Our-4-year old daughter got a hand-crafted model car made of wire and wood from discarded crates.  A local village kid made it.  I paid a few cents for it.  I felt so bad for her remembering tons of store-bought toys she got the year before, in Canada.  But she didn’t see any problem.  A present is a present, she enjoyed it just the same.

Christmas belongs to all people, particularly to the poor.  For not so poor, like me, it is a celebration of love.   I enjoy presents and having turkey dinner with loved ones very much.  However, without love, food and presents don’t mean much.

“Blessed are the poor.  Yours is the Kingdom of God.”   I learned a lot about the true Christmas in Africa.

Stereotype does not cover everyone.

I AM A CHRISTIAN TOO

I resent simplistic stereo-type.  In the Globe and Mail on Saturday, November 3, Jian Ghomeshi writes that “Argo” is an excellent movie but doesn’t like it because all Iranians are depicted negatively.  My 10 year old daughter was often asked by her schoolmates, “How come you are not good in Math?”  She wasn’t.  The stereo type in Switzerland was all Koreans and Japanese are good in Math.  Wrong!

Before her name was in the mud for plagiarism, the Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente accused the United Church of Canada of being too much social activist.  She said that was why membership is declining.  She must have forgotten that churches have always been activist throughout history.  It’s called prophetic ministry.  Religion is not only for personal salvation.  It also is very concerned about justice.  Read Prophet Amos.

Many Christians do not reject evolution and are not Pro-Life.  Then how come the adjective “Christian” is often applied only to one type of Christians.  Muslims suffer the stereo-type characterization of “extremists.”   Most of them are not.  Members of the LDS Church are often labelled “cult” despite their best Christmas pageant and nativity scene.   They are Christians too as the name “the Church of Jesus Christ” indicates.  When I lived  in Jerusalem in 2003, I met many patriotic Zionist Israelis who were against the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories.  Read an Israeli daily “Ha’aretz.”  The First Nations suffer from the stereo-type the most.  Stereo-typing people is not fair and is wrong.  Democracy can be destroyed by bigoted xenophobia and racism.

The recent United Church policy statement about the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories, was branded as a political action not fitting to be called a Christian Church.  Those critics forget that there is always a strong belief in Social Gospel.  19th Century Bishop William Temple was a recent pioneer.  Salvation Army was another.  Stanley Knowles (United Church), Tommy Douglas (Baptist) were both ministers who believed that the Gospel must be the good news in society.  In fact, the CCF party (the current NDP) was the only one who opposed the War Measures Act imposed on Japanese-Canadians during the World War II.

All religions have personal and social applications.  Hebrews called them priestly and prophetic functions.  One size does not fit all.  People are different.

Welcome to Tad Mitsui’s Website!

Featured

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.

VIRGIN MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

I don’t believe the birth of Jesus actually happened literally in the way the Gospels Matthew and Luke described it.  However, I believe t is important for all of us to think seriously about the meaning of Virgin Mary giving birth to our Lord.  The story of virgin birth has a lot deeper meaning beyond a mere miraculous event which is a biological and physical impossibility.  Therefore, the story of virgin birth is a myth that tells important truth.  Myth is not untruth.  We create myths when words fail to convey profound truth.  Thus it had to be told in fictions or stories based on the facts but that are embellished to make a point.  Virgin birth is such a case.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a relatively insignificant presence in the New Testament.  The Islamic Kor’an mentions her more often than the Christian Bible.  The account of virgin birth appears only in two books, Matthew and Luke.  The Gospels Mark and John completely ignore it, so do Paul and other Apostles.  Gospels were written mainly to tell the story of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  I believe the birth story itself is a fabrication of early Christians who lived outside of Palestine among pagans.

They needed to affirm their faith in Jesus the Messiah,about his Jewish roots and a role played by a humble young woman.  They were trying to emphasize the importanceof Jesus as a Jew and the Messiah by creating a myth as described in Matthew and Luke.  Therefore they were merely trying to enhance his mother’s status as someone special, be emulating the stories of the birth of Samuel and Isaiah’s prediction of the birth of Messaih by a young woman (7:14).  However, I do believe that those two points,  Jewish Jesus and his unmarried teenage mother, convey a very important message for us in the Twenty-first Century.  This is why I believe in the significance of what the story of virgin birth conveys, though it is not as a historical fact.  The writers’ intention was very important for us to recognize.  So what were they trying to say when they decided to fabricate the story of virgin birth?

To begin with, I should point out a serious problem in the story as the Matthew and Luke describe.  Both begin to tell the life of Jesus with genealogy leading starting with Adam and Eve (in case of Luke) and Abraham and Sarah (Matthew), in order to emphasize the importance of Joseph’s status as the descendant of King David so Jesus could be a ligitimate Messiah.  If Jesus had to be connected to David, why should it be Joseph’s ancestry, not Mary’s?  The virgin birth story means Jesus is not the son of Joseph.  He is the result of union of Mary and the Holy Spirit.  So, Jesus could not have been a descendant of King David, if he was not a son of Joseph.  Weren’t the writers of both Gospels aware of the problem?  I believe that they were not thinking about Mary being a virgin but a mere young girl.

In fact, the notion of “virgin” giving birth to a special child appears first time inh Isaiah 7:14.  “Behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son.”  Here, the word translated as “virgin” comes from Greek translation of  the word Hebrew “alma”  which merely means “Young woman” not necessarily a virgin.  When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek to accomodate Greek speaking Jewish diaspora, the idea that a woman becomes a not-so-pure when she has lost virginity was wide spread in the Greek speaking Mediteranean world.  Which was contrary to the traditional Hebrew idea of the beauty of sex as is found in the Song of Songs.  So in the Greek translation of the Old Testament used the word “parhenos” meaning clearly “virgin” who is not contaminated by sexual intercourse.  That suited the thinking of the Church which became the established state church, that needed to bainish any thought of a woman being “mother of God” who is contaminated by filthy  act of sex.

By then, the Church needed to establish Jesus as God, not merely the Messiah, the annointed one.  King David was a messiah, so was a Persian King Cyrus who liberated Hebrews from Babylonian captivity.  The creeds that affirms Jesus Christ as God, Nicean Creed and later Apostle’s Creed were authorized by a Roman Emperor who needed to unify his empire.  Nothing less than God could do that.  So Jesus Christ as one with God, being one person of Trinity.  Consequently Mary, who becomes Mother of God, had to be a virgin despite all sorts of contraditions.

It is interesting to speculate that, before Christian Church became the State religion, early Christian added the birth story as they did in two Gospels.  Why was it so importnat to recognize Jesus as  Jewish rabbi born of a very young mother, probably between ages of 14 – 16, whose pregnanvy was rather questionable?  What did they have in mind?  It is incumbent for us to recognize our Jewish religious roots, and respect for a human being despite a humble beginning.

That Mother of God had to be a virgin is not a traditional Jewish thinking.  As Song of Songs in the Old Testament clearly indicates, in Jewish mind sex is not dirty nor sinful, it is good and godly.  The notion of Mother of God had to be a virgin is an influence of dualistic Greek philosophy, where anything physical is imperfect, and anything good must be pyrely spiritual.  The Hebrew creation story, on the other hand, tells of God looking at his handiwork and said, “That’s good.”  The world began with originak blessing, nit sin.  That come later.

It is interesting to speculate, before the Christian Church became a state religion of the Empire, why early Christians added the birth story as they did.  Why was it important to recognaize that Jesus was a popular Jewish Rabbi (teacher), whom people started call Mssiah, a saviour of the Jewish nation?  Jesus Christ as one person of the Trinity came later.  Furthermore he was born of a young mother, probably a mere teenager, who became pregnant under a suspicious cercumstance.  Why did they have to write the life of the founder of their religion like that?

It is important for us to think seriously the Jewish roots of our faith, and the respect we have to accord to a humble person, an unmarried pregnant teenager.  Think what the song of Mary Luke 1: 46 -55.

 

 

A : PUSHED INTO DESPAIR – 3RD WEEK OF JUNE

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PUSHED INTO DESPAIR

Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Psalm 86

June 23, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

The Genesis passage chosen for today is a terrible and cruel story. Preachers dread having to deal with a Bible passage as this. How do you make sense out of a beastly act committed by good people? The story does not match our images of apparently nice people like Abraham and Sarah. An innocent slave woman was forced to have a baby by Abraham in order that an important family would have an heir. She had no say in the matter. As a mere slave, she was not much better than a cow. Furthermore when a child was born of the legitimate wife, the woman, whose body was treated like a convenient tool, was pushed out into a desert so that she and the child would disappear and hopefully die. What is the message of such a terrible story?

Let me try three points. You may think of more.

1. There is a dark and evil side in all of us.

2. There is a spiritual disease which rejects all hope.

3. Salvation is always nearby.

Point No. 1: We do not want to admit it, but all of us have a dark side inside of us that we don”t want to admit exists. The Bible tells us about the dark sides of many good people. King David, a beloved figure for all Jewish people, once stole another man”Ñwife, using his position as the Commander-in-Chief of the Army arranged her husband to be killed on a battle front, and married her. Peter, the most passionate one of all Jesus”s disciples who came to be known as the vicar of Christ, disavowed Jesus three times one evening in order to save his own skin. Paul, before he became a disciple, had persecuted Christians and facilitated the first martyrdom of Stephen and condoned his execution. The Bible never hides the ugly sides of people no matter how otherwise faithful and good they were known to be.

Sarah was a good woman, worthy of being called the mother of a nation. But when she saw her son playing with his half-brother by another mother, she was consumed by a sudden surge of jealousy, and told her husband to get rid of Ishmael and his mother Hagar. It did not matter that it was Sarah”s idea that her husband took another woman to have a child. Now, she hated her husband”s mistress and her son. What a terrible raw hatred. It is easy to condemn Sarah. But what this story is telling us is that all of us have a dark nature within us. It is terrible to admit it even to ourselves. But it is true.

Why did God create us with such an awful nature? It is because God gave us freedom. If there is only one option before us, there is no choice. That is not freedom. Without freedom, we are like other animals who have no choice but to follow our natural instincts. Freedom requires the conditions wherein one can choose. But there is also an awful risk in freedom. We can make good decisions or bad decisions. It is entirely up to us. That is what it means to be free. So we must be honest and admit that we are capable of making a bad decision and committing cruelty. This is why it is very important to believe in forgiveness. We are made acceptable despite our faults by the grace of God. Let us be honest about ourselves, and recognize evil in us without being crushed by guilt.

Point No. 2: Now Hagar and her child Ishmael were pushed out into the desert with nothing more than a skinful of water and some food. She didn”t know where to go. Mother and the child wandered about Sinai desert under the hot merciless sun for several days. Eventually food and water ran out. She put down Ishmael in the cool shade of a bush. He was crying feebly for water. And she walked away as far as she could so that she did not have to hear the child cry. She could not stand to watch him die. Yet she could not walk away. This is a picture of absolute despair. She loved the child, so she could not walk away from him. But also because she loved him, she could not bear to listen to the feeble cry of a dying child. She was in limbo. She had lost all hope.

When you are in despair, you don”t see any sign of hope, even though it may be nearby and clearly visible. One of the most tragic things about people, who have lost all hope, is that they refuse to be hopeful even if it is possible. They are determined to be pessimistic. Hagar was so despairing that she did not see the well of fresh water nearby.

A friend of mine, a United Church minister who was sitting with me at the same table at the Conference in Ottawa last week, told me about a woman who was dying of anorexia. She was abused as a child and became convinced that nobody liked her nor loved her. Worst of all, she was convinced it was all her fault. She stopped eating as an attempt to be slim and presentable, so that she could be acceptable at least in physical appearance . She had reached 80 lb and was still convinced that she needed to reduce weight. At that point, people around her began to ask if it was no longer a psychological disorder, but rather something even more profound – i.e. a spiritual disease. She could never accept herself. She basically wanted to disappear. No medical doctor nor psychiatrist could help her, so she was referred to the minister. And my friend was not sure if she could help her. When one has totally lost hope, one can not see even a very visible sign of hope nor accept a helping hand.

The final point: When Hagar lost all hope, God heard Ishmael”s cry. It is interesting. Isn”t it? The Bible was describing Hagar”s conditions until then. But suddenly the attention was switched to her son. The Bible said, “God heard the voice of the boy.” Obviously, the boy never stopped crying. Hagar was so much in despair that she had even stopped crying. Her tears had dried up. One cries when one subconsciously knows that there is someone who can hear the cry and help. One cries when one hopes to be heard. Ishmael did not give up hope. Weeping is a hand stretched in search of help – a manifestation of hope. I still remember when I wept for the first time as an adult in the presence of other people. It was when my father died. I had just finished Theological School. As one who was brought up to behave like a man in the macho culture of Japan, I had tried hard not to cry. But it was no use. I had to cry. I immediately became conscious of the eyes of other people. What would people think of a grown man not being able to control himself? I realize now that at that moment I was asking people to help me. Soon I felt the whole weight of despair lifted while weeping. People did not look at me with disdain. Instead, I rediscovered a community of people who cared.

God heard Ishmael”s cry and helped to open the eyes of Hagar. She found a well-spring of fresh water, which had always been there. They regained enough strength to find food in the desert and eventually learnt to live there. God promised Hagar that her son, Ishmael would grow up to be a mighty hunter and a provider in a desert. According to the legend, Hagar and Ishmael were the ancestors of the present day Arab nations, who have thrived in the desert lands of the Arabian peninsula and North Africa. Hagar found Ishmael a wife in the land of her birth – Egypt, and became the matriarch of a mighty nation, no longer a slave. She was a victim no more. The cry of an innocent child, who did not know how to give up hope, helped her to find salvation. That cry in the wilderness also meant she found her freedom; she became the mistress of her own destiny, because she found hope beyond despair.

 

 

 

A: DARE TO HOPE – 2ND WEEK OF JUNE

HOPE BEYOND HOPELESSNESS

Genesis 21: 8 – 21, Psalm 86 VU803, Matthew 10:24-39

                                                   Voices United:288,506,560,635

June 19, 2005, at Claresholm

There was a woman who was dying of anorexia nervosa. She was abused as a child and became convinced that nobody liked her. She stopped eating as a desperate attempt to be slim and attractive. In the end, she weighed as little as 80 lb but still determined that she must still lose weight. At that point, she could never accept herself. People began to ask if it was no longer a psychological disorder, but a spiritual problem. Severe lack of self-esteem is a spiritual illness. She was in a hell of despair. In the end, she went to see an United Church minister.

When you are in despair, you don”t see any sign of hope. You are determined to see only the dark side. It is like Hagar in today’s scriptures. She so completely lost hope that she did not see a spring of fresh water nearby.

Today’s Old Testament passage is a terrible and cruel story. How do you make sense out of a beastly deed committed by good people like Abraham and Sarah? An innocent slave woman was forced to have a baby by her master, Abraham, encouraged by his wife, Sarah. Hagar, the slave, was treated like a cow. Furthermore when a child was born to the legitimate wife, the slave woman was cast out into a desert so that she and the child would simply vanish. She had no friend. The community that supported her abandoned her.

The Bible dose not hide the dark side of people, no matter how good they were. It is because its main message is that God only is absolutely perfect as no human can be. Good King David once lusted after another man”Ñ wife and had her husband killed on a battle front in order to marry her. Peter, who came to be known as the vicar of Christ, lied and said that he didn’t know Jesus three times to save his own life. Paul spoke about an elder of the church in Corinth who shared a concubine with his son. And there are more. Adultery, betrayal, incest, etc abound. The Bible is not a book about nice people.

The story about Sarah, Hagar, and their sons is one of those stories that tell us that all of us have a dark side. It is terrible but it is the truth. Like the good woman Sarah, We are capable to commit evil. But by the grace of God, we are made acceptable in spite of our faults.

Hagar and her child Ishmael were cast out into the desert by Abraham and Sarah with nothing more than a bit of water and food. They wandered around Sinai desert under the hot merciless sun. Eventually food and water ran out. Mother put down her son in the cool shade of a bush. He was crying feebly for water. And she walked away as far as she could so that she did not have to hear her child cry. She loved the child, so she could not walk away from him completely. But also because she loved him, she could not bear to hear the feeble cry of her dying child. They had no place to go: only death awaited. This is a picture of absolute hopelessness. She had no one to turn to. All humans, even good people like Abraham and Sarah failed her.

Hagar lost all hope, but not little Ishmael. He did not give up hope. Babies don’t know how to give up. This is why they keep crying. You cry to be heard. Weeping is a hand stretched in search of hope. God heard Ishmael”s cry and helped to open the eyes of Hagar. She found a well-spring of fresh water, which had always been there. Now their thirst was quenched, they regained enough strength to find food in the desert. Eventually they learnt to live in the desert. God promised Hagar that her son, Ishmael would grow up to be a mighty hunter and a good provider. According to the legend, Hagar and Ishmael were the ancestors of the present day Arab nations.

 

They thrived in the desert lands of the Arabian peninsula and North Africa. When Hagar recovered hope, she and her son found community. Hagar found Ishmael a wife in the land of her birth – Egypt, and became the matriarch of a mighty nation, no longer a slave. She was a victim no more. The cry of an innocent child, who did not know how to give up hope, helped her find salvation. She not only found water, but also God and community. Baby’s cry in the wilderness also meant she found her freedom; she became the mistress of her own destiny. She found hope beyond despair.

There is an African saying, "You can not save a cow who doesn’t want to get out of a gully." I suppose it’s the same thing as "God helps those who help themselves." We believe in hope. There is always hope beyond hopelessness. If you can not accept this, you suffer sickness of despair. It prevents you to see God who is always nearby ready to help you. Let us rejoice, God is with us. We may not deserve such grace. But God is always with us. Emmanuel, "God is with us" that’s how Jesus is called. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

B: SMALL IS BIG – 3RD WEEK OF JUNE

SMALL IS BIG

I Samuel 17, Psalm 107, Mark 4:35-41

June 22, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

 

I once saw the one and only 10th Dan judo master doing a demonstration. As you may know, in judo the black belt class has ten levels. Each level is called "Dan" – like the first level is "1st Dan". The minimum requirement to be a master, with a licence to teach, is a 3rd Dan. There is only one 10th level person in the whole world. I believe that in Canada, the person who holds the highest level is a 4th Dan. Anyhow, this 10th level person was a shrimp of a man, barely 5 ft tall. He was 76 years old. But he threw down men who sometimes looked almost twice his size, one by one. It was a spectacle of skills over strength, a brain over muscles.

 

God created us with many faculties. They must work together under the direction of intellect and wisdom. Even though we all know that the body must follow the dictate of the mind, a strange thing about us is, we keep coming back to the most uncivilized value. We keep regressing to the respect of brutal force. The story of David and Goliath teaches us how stupid this attitude is.

 

We love beautiful and powerful things; cars, machines, trees and mountains. However, we seldom stop to think what they are for. They can be good or bad. They are nothing unless we give them their worth. Like Jesus said, "a pearl means nothing to a pig." Whatever we treasure must serve our purpose. I may have told you about the air raid that burnt down the whole city, where I was living, during the last world war. I tried to help an old lady who was trying to get out of a burning house. I took the neighbour”s hand and started to run. But she said she left something behind, and went back into the burning house. Her charred body was found next morning. Whatever she forgot surely could not have been more valuable than her life. Possessions and even our bodies can destroy us unless we know what they are for and use them appropriately. Sense of priority comes from wisdom, and wisdom helps our mind to decide how our bodies should behave. Wisdom belongs to the spiritual world.

 

Goliath was a giant. He was nine foot tall, and wore the armours weighing 250 pound and carried a spear that weighed 15 pound. The highest known man in the world today is said to be a Korean basketball player, now training in Canada, by the name of Michael Ri. He is 7 feet 9 inches tall. Considering an average height at the time being 5 feet or less, a mere sight of Goliath must have caused absolute terror among the Hebrew troops. People with little confidence and imagination can easily be intimidated by superficial show of force even though it may be empty inside. Excessive bigness is not only useless but nuisance, like a combine harvester in Muriel”s patch of vegetables in our backyard.

 

Then appeared David, a tiny boy of about fourteen years old but was full of self-confidence and tricks. He volunteered to take Goliath on, alone. Everybody laughed but David was serious. King decided, "Why not. What we”ve got to lose. He is only a little boy, hardly a loss to the nation." So they gave him the whole set of armours and weapons and told him to go out to kill the giant. The armours and weapons were useless to him, too big and too heavy. He only needed what he always used. A slingshot and a stone were all David needed to defeat Goliath. The same kind of story keeps repeating itself in our history. And yet, we, especially men, keep admiring physical strength and big sizes. We keep glorifying muscles, guns, big machines and big explosions on movies and TV stories. The lessons from the story of David and Goliath are still poignant today.

 

How, then, does one acquire such self-confidence and wits like David did? The story of young David gives some interesting insight into the way he grew up. He had to live alone in the desert looking after his father”s sheep, fending off lions and wolves not with muscles nor weapons but with a few little tricks. He not only acquired survival skills, he also sung his own songs with his small harp, probably hand-made. He learned to cope with boredom and loneliness with his own music and poetry. He wrote many songs of praise and about his faith, some of which are still with us in the Bible. Many psalms were written by David. After the victory over Goliath, David was promoted to become King Saul”s page, whose job was to comfort him with music. Isn”t it telling? Even after the spectacular act defeating Goliath, which clearly proved David”s intelligence and military skills, Saul could see only a little boy who could sing and play a harp well. Saul did not understand true meaning of art that would inspire spirits and nurture intelligence.

 

From ancient of times, human race expressed the deep feelings and thoughts; their faith, love, thanksgiving and prayers in arts, dance, drawings, paintings, music, and poetry. Before writing was invented, humans expressed themselves only in dancing, music and paintings. Ancient paintings are still being found in caves in Africa. Old musical instruments were found in many archeological sites. Arts and music are very important tradition of our faith. This is because God is beyond our limited vocabularies. It is because many of our aspirations of our faith are beyond the existing means of communication, so we sing, hum, and enjoy hearing others making music.

 

Reformer John Calvin tried to abolish music and art in the church. He believed that the words were the only good enough expression of faith and arts could lead us to idolatry. But he never succeeded. He did not understand how important for people to express their faith and feeling towards each other in arts that inspired them. Calvin was constantly in pain with migraine and ulcer. Poor man! When I was a student, with disdain we, the Methodists, used to look at the Presbyterians class mates, followers of John Calvin, and said, "the preacher who can not sing becomes a Presbyterian minister." Of course, the Presbyterian students said of us as "those who can sing but can not preach a decent sermon." The point is; David was a man of faith, that”s why he was a poet and a musician. If you forgive my male oriented language, I say, "Arts ain”t for sissy." King Saul did not understand that. David was a good and cunning soldier, because he was an artist and a poet. He was a musician and a poet, because he was used to having conversations with God alone in the desert. Arts gave him a sense of himself, and self-confidence.

 

When the boat ran into a sudden gale coming from Golan Heights, Jesus was fast asleep. But the disciples were afraid. Even today, a gust of sudden wind is not uncommon on the lake Galilee. It comes suddenly but it goes away in a few minutes. Disciples should have known that, because some of them were fishermen. But they panicked. We too panic when we don”t know what is going on and are not sure of ourselves. Do you remember the last time you panicked. I do. At the parking lot at Dorval Airport. I could not remember where I parked my car. I happened to have a lot of cash in the glove compartment on that day. I panicked. I shouted to Muriel, "the car”s stolen." Jesus said to the sea, "Peace. Be still." But actually, he said that to the disciples. "Be still, I am here. What”s the problem.", says God. A regular conversation with God in solitude is an art we lost in these days. We must recover that. We can do that in the garden, in the field, in the barn on the road alone doing whatever we are doing. We can sing and dance. Nobody has to see it. We will find God and ourselves like David did.

 

A: SARAH”S LAUGHTER – 2ND WEEK OF JUNE

THAT”S A LAUGH

Genesis 18:1-15, Psalm 116 (#69 Matthew 9:35-38

June 16, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

A God”s messenger told Abraham that his wife, Sarah, would give birth to a child. She overheard this inside of the tent. At first, she giggled a little at the thought of it, but soon she started to laugh harder. She could not help it, because both she and her husband were old. When the child was indeed born, they named him laughter – Isaac in Hebrew. This story intrigues me. First of all, being a man I don”t quite understand why Sarah”s situation should be so funny. And furthermore I hadn”t known that there was a story in the Bible which puts so much importance on laughter. I was brought up to think that somehow laughing is something you are not supposed to do in the church.

On the other hand, laughing is known as something only human beings do. No other animals are known to laugh. This is why the word "humour" comes from the word human. Laughing is an uniquely human activity. The knowledge of inevitable death is another thing that makes us human unique. I think we laugh because we need to ease the unbearable pain of knowing of our own future. I remember one very sick man who asked me a few days before he died, "Tad, will you say something funny about me at my funeral?" Laughter is not only contagious but also empowering. Do you remember an old Gary Cooper movie, "Beau geste"? A platoon of French Foreign Legionnaires were besieged by thousands of desert nomads in a fortress. Only a few men survived the first few onslaughts. And now they were waiting for the final attack that would surely decimate them. The situation was absolutely hopeless. Then a tough old sergeant told men to laugh. Just laugh. They were so exhausted, thirsty, scared and tense that no one could even move a muscle in their face. First someone made a hissing sound trying hard to obey the Sergeant”s order. The second man began his feeble attempt. It was only the third man who was successful making a credible laughing sound. And then it was contagious. Soon the whole platoon of survivors were laughing their heads off. The enemies were frightened by the strength of tough survivors who could laugh so hard. The last few legionnaires gained enough courage to withstand the final onslaught.

Sarah had everything a woman of her time could want. She was a beautiful woman. She was so beautiful, in fact, that Abraham had difficult time keeping her away from lustful eyes of kings and other local bullies. As they journeyed through many countries, he had to tell all sorts of lies in order to protect his wife from being taken to the harems of clan chieftains and kings. She, however, was basically a happy woman, married to a faithful, God fearing, and hard-working man. Abraham was also a rich man, with thousands of animals and hundreds of servants. She loved him dearly. She had everything except one thing. She could bear no child. This is despite the fact that God promised that their offspring would be as numerous as the number of stars in the sky. Yet no child had come. Now they were old, beyond child bearing age.

As Sarah got older, she became convinced she would never have a child. So she told her husband to go to her Egyptian slave woman Hagar, and have a baby with her. That was considered quite acceptable at the time. Hagar of course had no say in the matter. She bore him a child. They named him Ishmael. It was important for a family to have a boy child in those old times. A wife who could not bear an heir was often humiliated. So, Sarah was going to adopt Ishmael as her own in order to have a child who would carry the family name. Irony is that soon after Ishmael”s birth, Sarah was promised of her own child, which came true.

Anyhow, when Sarah heard that someone was predicting her impending pregnancy, at first the thought of having a baby seemed ridiculous. She had way passed menopause, and her husband was too old. Sharing pleasure at their age might be still possible, but having a baby? The idea was wonderful but impossible. She giggled at the thought of it remembering how it was when they were young. It was not a bad feeling to remember those good old days, the days when anything seemed possible. As she began to feel happier, so started to laugh a little louder. The visitors who were speaking with her husband outside of the tent heard the muffled laughter and asked her why she was laughing. She first denied that she laughed, because it was the kind of secret joy old people were not expected to harbour. We often deny the joy of life to senior citizens. After my mother lost my step-father, at the age of seventy-six, she became a good friend of a man a few years younger than she was, who lived in the same seniors” apartment building. My siblings and I were horrified. It was not money. It was the thought of seniors, especially one”s own mother, having a romantic relationship, that was unacceptable in our mind. But of course, that was our problem, not my mother”s. Neither was it a moral problem. God makes many things possible to make our life joyful.

It was such a wonderful thing for Sarah to remember how it had been between her and her husband, especially how the thought of having a child had always been present. But now it was an impossible dream, though a wonderful one. So she laughed and laughed at herself that she could still think of those things. She was happy to realize that she was still capable of such youthful dreams. When some idea occurs to you which is wonderfully pleasurable though absolutely impossible, what do you do? You laugh at yourself. It is a healthy kind of laughter. When you can laugh at yourself, you are fine. You have no problem. But when you are insecure or ill at ease, you can not laugh at yourself. It is too scary to look at your own reality. You avoid looking at yourself at all costs.

So what happens to a person”s laughter in this case – when you don”t like yourself too much and feel too insecure to look at yourself? Instead of laughing at yourself, you laugh at others in their disability or at their misfortune. Those are nasty laughs. You put down others to feel good. A lot of ethnic jokes and sexist jokes are said for that reason. Because you don”t feel good about yourself, you make others targets of your ridicule.

It is good to see Sarah had capacity to laugh at herself for, in those days, women had many reasons to feel insecure in their social positions. Women did not enjoy freedom and independence as men did in those days. Women were basically men”s property at that time. Powerful men stole other people”s wives and kept them in harems. Women were not allowed to possess any means to protect themselves. So they had to be dependent on men for their protection. Men took concubines when their wives could not bear children without ever considering that it might the men who were sterile. Sarah should have been an insecure person, like other women were, but she wasn”t. She could laught at herself. Why?

It must have been a wonderful dream for Sarah to be able to achieve the impossible and to bear an heir. But her laughter had a hint of defiance. When she heard the prediction of her pregnancy, she thought it was ridiculous. It was biologically impossible. So she giggled at the thought. But it might just be possible, it just might, one chance in a million kind of possibility. As the thought began to sink in, she must have realized that other people would also think such an idea ridiculous. How can one defy the laws of nature? Yet the thought pleased her. "Old age can not beat me. I will defy people”s idea of possibility. I believe in God”s promise no matter how that sounds impossible. I believe in God. I don”t care what people say." She could win in an unfair game. Then the laughter became deep and hearty.

So what was God trying to tell us in Sarah”s laughter? It is impossible to tell. The story is pregnant with a whole world of meaning. I am sure I haven”t even touched the surface of the story. At least we know that God makes us laugh at a thought of making impossible possible. Sometimes God”s message is so wonderfully incredible, and so incredibly wonderful, that the only way we can react to it is to laugh. And laughter also makes the burden of life”s reality bearable. But isn”t it wonderful to think that a nation which brought Jesus Christ into our world was begun by a man, Isaac, whose name meant Laughter? And that it was his mother”s laughter at God”s incredible promise for whom he was named.

B: IN A SEED THERE IS AN APPLE TREE – 2ND WEEK OF JUNE

IN THE SEED, THERE IS AN APPLE TREE

I Samuel 16:1-13, II Cor. 5:16-17, Psalm 20,  Mark 4:26-34

June 15, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

 

I found a lovely children”s hymn in the "Voices United". It’s like this: "In the bulb, there is a flower. In the seed, an apple tree." We are a spiritual being. That means, we possess a tiny bit of the power of God to see the potential in things that are not yet reality nor visible. We can respect a seemingly insignificant thing, because we see all sorts of possibilities in it. Often living things contain amazing potential no matter how small they are. However, to see that potential, one needs to have a different kind of vision. Jesus was trying to tell his followers about an entirely different way of looking at things; God”s way of seeing things. Once we see as God sees, we will see an apple tree in a tiny seed. We will see the whole world in a tiny little baby.

 

The trouble is that we think what is bigger or more numerous is automatically better. We seldom stop to wonder if number or size has anything to do with quality. A mountain of something can be a pile of useless garbage or toxic substance. One trend in our churches, which bothers me a lot, is the way we measure the success of a church. We count the number of people and the amount of money to decide if the church is doing a good job. Of course, it is nice to see many people in the pews. It is better to have money than not. We must realize, however, a church with a whole bunch of members with unchristian attitude is a bad news. A lot of money can be a source of quarrels, too. As you know, conflicts over money and property are the best ways to destroy a church. I have seen them too many times. A successful church is not necessarily a church with many members and a large budget. It is a church that knows its mission and a community of people who love each other, no matter how small it is. The church is not a business.

 

More and more our society conditions us to see only the appearances and to appreciate only the sizes like we do in business. We are losing the capacity to respect what is hidden from us. Consequently, we are gradually losing our capacity to see the possibilities in invisible things, in an insignificant looking things, or in little things. We must recover our God-given ability to see value in things hidden and small. Jesus is reminding us today that Kingdom of God is like a smallest of seeds. It can grow into a big tree, where birds can nest. We must switch our mindset to recognize value in hidden things and to appreciate beauty in small things. Like Paul said, "From now on, we regard nothing from a human point of view." We must learn to see in God”s way.

 

Prophet Samuel was a king maker. When people felt that they needed a strong leader to fight the war, they asked Samuel to install a king for them. To win a war, a strong leader is an obvious requirement. You can not run a war democratically. You need someone who is tough enough to send people into battles even against their will. So Samuel found a very tall and very handsome man with a lot of muscles. His name was Saul. The prophet thought that big size, good looks and physical strength would earn him people”s respect. Indeed he did. People followed him. He led his troops into many successful campaigns. But God was not happy with Saul. God told Samuel that Saul had to be replaced. Saul lacked in inner qualities. He lacked toughness to follow God”s commandments. He lacked wisdom. God rejected Saul, and told the prophet to find another king. So Samuel set out to find another candidate for a king.

 

So where did God lead Samuel to find a new king? He was sent to Bethlehem, in the land of Judah. It is in the middle of a harsh region of rocks and sand and little water. Compared to the land of Galilee which is full of water and is lush green, Bethlehem was indeed nowhere. The prophet had to say; "And you, Bethlehem, are by no means least among the rulers in the land of Judah." When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem, the people were afraid. "Why did a mighty Prophet come to an insignificant village like ours? He speaks for God and can even appoint a king." They expected the worst, like you might if a policeman came knocking on your door.

 

Of course, Samuel could not say why he came to Bethlehem. If King Saul found that the next king would be chosen in Bethlehem, he might send his army to kill the villagers as well as the prophet. Samuel told the leaders of the village that he came for a special worship service. He asked them to kill a heifer, and prepare an altar on which to dedicate it as a sacrifice. They did that. Samuel asked one of them by the name of Jesse if his sons could join him in the worship. God had picked the family of Jesse by name. Jesse proudly presented his sons one by one, all of whom were all tall and handsome. But each time one of them appeared before Samuel, God said to him, "Do not look on his outward appearance or on the height of his stature, because I rejected such a man before. I do not look at things as humans do, who would look on the outward appearance, but I look on the inside – on the heart." God rejected all the sons of Jesse who were brought in.

 

So Samuel asked Jesse if he had seen all his sons. "Yes," he said, "except the youngest. He is only a boy. He is watching my sheep out in the desert. I am not sure if I could find him." Samuel told him to go and find him. It was a real let down for Jesse. He wanted to show off his good looking sons. Whatever the purpose of those interviews were, he certainly never thought of his little boy as someone worth considering for an important position. He was too young, only good enough to keep an eye on the sheep while they were grazing. Yes, he had beautiful eyes, but he was too small to be a soldier. His appearance was not too impressive to be even an altar boy. He wrote songs and could sing with his lute, but that was about the only thing he could do well. Anyhow the young boy was brought in. God said to Samuel, "He is it. Anoint him to be the next king." This is how the greatest and most beloved king of Israel was anointed. This was how the story of King David began.

 

Just as a little apple seed has all the potential of an apple tree, the potential to bear thousands of apples, any little baby has all the potential to become the greatest or the most wonderful person in the whole world. The Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed that grows up to be a big tree. Likewise, the church can have only a few members or have little money. All it needs is a commitment to uphold the spirit of Christ. All it needs is a seed that is a commitment to be a community of caring and sharing. This is how God sees it. That is how we should see ourselves, too.

 

 

 

C: WHEN A BABY CRIES – 2ND WEEK OF JUNE

WHEN A BABY CRIES

I Kings 21:1-10, Psalm 5, Luke 7:36&ff.

June 14, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

Now that the Sunday School is over for the summer, probably today is the last day to see a baby in the worship service until September. We all love babies. But in the church? It is a dilemma. Isn”t it? We all wish that many Moms come to church with babies. But we hope that babies keep quiet, which, of course, is impossible. We are delighted, annoyed, and embarrassed by the way the babies behave in the church, because they make it quite clear how they feel and what they want, very loudly.

I don”t think that the babies are doing anything wrong. It is only we think that they don”t have manners, and that”s our problem, not babies”. We have to have manners in the civilized adult society for sure. That, I think, is the problem, because good manners also can hide truth. Babies have no such problem. I sometimes wish that we could all be honest like babies. Jesus ran into a woman who expressed her gratitude in a manner which was embarrassingly explicit and intimate. But he had an eyes to see genuine faith behind an embarrassing gesture of a person who did not behave in a socially acceptable way.

One day, Jesus was invited to a dinner with a Pharisee by the name of Simon. Reading the scripture carefully, we realize that it was more a party than it was a private dinner. For one thing, there was at least one woman who the host had not invited. That means that there were many guests moving freely about in Simon”s house. Secondly, the verb used to describe Jesus” position at the table "to take" can also be translated as "recline". Only Jesus and the host were at the table in the reclining position. It meant that Jesus was the honoured guest according to the custom of the Palestine at the time. Other guests were on their feet moving about freely with food in their hands.

What happened next sounds enormously embarrassing. A woman, who was known in town as a sinner, stood at Jesus” feet, and started to cry profusely. She cries so hard that tears poured on to Jesus” feet. Noticing that his feet were getting wet with her tears, she sat down and started to wipe away her tears with her unbound hair. She also started kissing his feet and putting perfumed oil on them. A bare foot is a private body part even for us. It is much more so for Jewish people. Orthodox Jews wear their peculiar style of clothes, with their pants tucked into their socks, to make sure that they do not to expose any part of their feet. You can imagine how disconcerting this display appeared.

This woman was known in town as a sinner. The Scripture does not say what kind of sin she committed. As the word "sin" is the same word as "debt" in the Biblical language, she could have been someone who was indentured for the unpaid debt. She was a person forced to live in shame, who might have fallen to a status of a slave. She could well have been a prostitute, too. At any rate, it must have been a very embarrassing scene with such an explicit display of affection in public, especially by a person of ill repute, and also especially by a person of opposite sex. But Jesus accepted her ways and let her do it.

People must have been appalled and embarrassed. The host even rebuked Jesus for allowing such a shameful behaviour. "How dare you allow this to happen in my house!" Pharisees were the lawyers committed to uphold the moral standard of the society. So it was a slap in the fact of this upright Simon, who wanted to honour a famous teacher and a prophet. It was an event which would have boosted his already high standing in society. But this! The intended honoured guest disgraced the occasion and ruined his good name by accepting a shameful display of uninhibited affection from a prostitute.

To his host”s surprise, Jesus pointed out to the Pharisee how much this woman had to struggle to come to a public event at a respectable household, and to do what she did. She did it in the only way she could think of. She had to come so far. So, as she approached him, Jesus did not shy away from her. She must have felt Jesus” unconditional acceptance. A powerful force of gratitude overtook her. It took the last bit of inhibition away from her as the situation developed from the time she stood near Jesus. He did not pull away his feet as her tears started to drop on them, as she unbound her hair to wipe the moisture from them, and even as she started to hold the feet in her hands and kiss them. He let her continue. Jesus appreciated such uninhibited show of devotion more than what Simon offered to him, no matter how inappropriate it might have appeared.

So what”s the point of today”s story? The point is that Jesus appreciates the distance you travel more than the place you stand. Today” story is just one of many that illustrate this. Jesus valued an offering of two small coin pieces from a widow more than an extravagant donation of a rich man, because that was all she had while it was spare money for the man. Jesus appreciated the faith of a sinner who stood at the door of the Temple who prayed, "I am a sinner. I am not worthy to come to your presence." But he did not think too much of a Pharisee, who always sat at the front seat who was convinced that he was naturally acceptable to God because he always followed every letter of the law.

When a baby cries, it is the most genuine form of prayer. It is uninhibited and spontaneous expression of what a baby feels and wants. Nobody may understand it. Everybody is annoyed and embarrassed, or even gets angry. But a mother understands and accepts baby”s cry. God understands our honest cry no matter how inappropriate it may appear in our eyes. Jesus understood and appreciated a sinner”s offering of tears and oil on his feet. He risked his social standing by accepting the inappropriate offering. But he said that it was the most precious offering of faith he had seen. Jesus looks at us with the same unconditional love. No matter how far we have come, no matter how awkward our approach, we are welcomed, too. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

B: DAVID AND JONATHAN – FIFTH SUNDAY OF JUNE

DAVID AND JONATHAN WERE TRUE FRIENDS

I Samuel 18-20, Psalm 130, Mark 5:21-43

June 29, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

I am sure I am not wrong to say that men have more difficulty making friends than women. This is why I find the story of David and Jonathan so remarkable. David and Jonathan were good friends against all odds. They truly loved each other, even though it was more natural for them to be killing each other. Instead, theirs is a touching story of two devoted friends. Let us see what we can learn about the love that made such a friendship possible. I will mention two important features of the story.

First of all, true friendship overcomes all negative conditions. Secondly, such love can only come from unmovable faith in God.

David and Jonathan lived in the context that should have made them rivals and arch-enemies. They were both skilful and popular military leaders. They both had legitimate claims on the throne. Jonathan was the legitimate heir to the throne, because his father was the king. However, David had the divine right to succeed Saul, and knew that God was not pleased with King Saul. King Saul meanwhile was a sick man – sick in the mind. He felt very insecure, so was very unstable, jealous, and prone to frequent bouts of depression. He even tried to kill his own son by throwing a javelin at Jonathan, when he found that Jonathan was a popular military leader after a spectacularly successful campaign. So you can imagine how Saul felt about David. We don”t know if Saul knew that David was chosen to be the next king, but certainly he knew that David was an excellent all round leader, and was popular. Even though David”s loyalty to the king was beyond any doubt, and even though David provided great comfort with his music and poetry when he was depressed, Saul”s jealousy was deadly to David.

There was also a regional rivalry factor at work. Jonathan and his father King Saul were people from the North – called Israel. They were used to fertile land of green hills and fields, with plentiful water in the river and lakes. People were farmers and fishers in the North. On the other hand, David”s native land was a dry rugged and rocky country of Judeah, where people were herdsmen in search of grass and water for animals. Because Jerusalem was in the land of Judeah, the South became the religious and political centre of the nation. A city developed, and its business and commerce attracted many people. Even though they belonged to the same nation, those regional differences made the Israeli and Judeans jealous siblings among the children of Abraham and Sarah.

Despite all this, David and Jonathan became best of friends. The Bible said that they loved each other very much. When David heard about Jonathan”s death by the hand of the Philistine, he wrote a heart wrenching song. "The beauty of Israel is slain upon the hills:…Oh, Jonathan, you were slain in that hill. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan:…your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." Incidentally, this last phrase is very telling, because David”s many relationships with women were exploitative. They showed that he did not understand women”s love very well. Anyhow, coming back to David and Jonathan; even though their interests collided head on, their friendship never wavered. Jonathan often pleaded with his father to stop pursuing David. Jonathan risked provoking king”s wrath by doing this.

One place I know where men bond like David and Jonathan did without involving alcohol or sex is in battles. Most of the soldiers sacrifice their lives for the sake of their buddies, not for the sake of some invisible lofty ideal like patriotism or defense of democracy. It is friendship and personal loyalty that makes men brave. Ask any veteran. They share same the bad food and rough living conditions, and become comrades ready to spare no expense to protect each other. Often we become friends for the sake of common goal like we do in the same work place. Competition does not encourage friendship between adversaries and competitors. In men”s service clubs like Kiwanis, Lions, or Rotary clubs, three topics are prohibited in conversation: business, politics and religion. Those topics can wreck friendship and harmony, because of conflicting interests.

In our faith, we believe that God”s commandment to love each other goes beyond all barriers and conflicts of interests. Some religions believe that life is one long battle between two opposing values like good and bad. We don”t share that belief. We believe in a God who embraces everything and everybody, good and bad. We believe that love enables us to forgive and forget. Love makes friendship overcome the conditions that divide people and drive them to hatred of each other. David and Jonathan loved each with that kind of love and overcame all the conditions that should have made them enemies.

This leads us to the next point. Such a highly elevated state of love, as the friendship between David and Jonathan, must have come from their deep faith in God. You see, both men had the highest respect for God”s action. No matter how insane King Saul became, David never lost respect for the fact that Saul was the anointed king according to God”s plan. Jonathan held the same respect for David for the same reason. Both men believed deeply in the providence of God. No matter how many times opportunities presented themselves where they could destroy their rivals, they never raised their hands to harm God”s chosen ones.

During the time when Saul was pursuing David, at least twice David had the opportunity to kill the king. Once David was hiding in a cave surrounded by men loyal to him. Saul came into the cave to relieve himself. It was so easy to attack him in such a compromising position. In fact, David”s men, in whispers, urged him to kill the king. They were eager to save the nation from an incompetent and insane king. But David didn”t, out of respect for the God”s anointed. Instead, he stealthily cut a piece out of King”s garment from behind the rock. He sent it to Saul to show him that he had a chance to kill him, but didn”t. Saul was touched by this and regretted his anger towards David. Of course, that period of calm did not last long. Saul began to pursue David again with his army. David again became an exile. Several hundred men deserted Saul”s army and followed him. They admired David”s leadership qualities. David became a powerful wandering warlord, with a band of many loyal fighting men. It would have been easy to defeat King”s army in its dispirited state. But David didn”t. One night, in order to impress the King with his loyalty, he sneaked into the tent where Saul was sleeping. He took the King”s spear which laid by his head and a water jar by his side. Next morning, he sent the two articles back to prove his loyalty to the king. Saul was again very sorry for his foolishness and repented. But time had run out for King Saul. Because of Saul”s irrational behaviour, it was easy for the Philistines to defeat the demoralized Israeli army. Jonathan and his two other sons were killed by the Philistines and the King killed himself.

David had faith in God and firmly believed in the correctness of the divine plan. This is why he never thought of killing someone who was once chosen by God. He had a tremendous respect for the one God loved, even though such respect went against his own interest and welfare. Such a love comes only from the respect for God. This is the source of incredible friendship like the one between David and Jonathan. We are all the beloved children of God. Like David and Jonathan, let us love each other against all odds.

 

 

C: YOU CAN”T BUY RELIGION LIKE YOU BUY A CAR

YOU CAN NOT BUY A RELIGION LIKE YOU BUY A CAR

2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14, Psalm 146, Luke 9:51-62

June 28, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

The famous New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra once said, "If you don”t know where you”re going, you”ll never get there." The best way to walk straight is to keep looking at a distant object and stride towards it. If you look at only a few feet away or keep looking backwards to check if you have walked straight, you probably will take a longer curved route or may even end up going around a circle. I heard a story about a man, who decided to have a long walk at night during a blinding blizzard in the Northern wilderness. He never came back. His frozen body was found only a few feet away from the camp. It was clear from his foot marks that he just went around a circle all night. I don”t think that was his intention. I am sure he was desperately trying to find the base camp.

Today”s Gospel begins with a sentence, "Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." Why did Jesus decide to leave Galilee where he was so successful in his ministry? Thousands of people were following him everywhere he went. Yet, why was he determined to go to Jerusalem where there were many hostile people. This story teaches us something about the importance of setting a goal and of commitment to it, no matter how much it costs. In the place of the expression "He set his face..", some interpreters of the Bible used expressions like "he stiffened his face towards.." or "he fixed his face resolutely towards.." They are all saying that Jesus was determined to stride towards a destination which required sacrifices. The point of this passage is that faith is a commitment. It is not like going for shopping. There can not be detour or turning back. It is more like having a family. Once you have a family, you have no choice of who your parents are, who your children are. Family is not a matter of choosing what you like or dislike. Family is a matter of faithfulness and of love. You can not change your mind and ask for refund for your parent or for your child. Likewise, faith is a matter of commitment.

Furthermore, commitment means setting priorities for the sake of a goal. Therefore, it means giving up some things in order to go forward towards the direction you have committed yourself. Here Luke recorded three examples of what you should give up.

First of all, Jesus pointed out to us that a faithful person is a traveller who is always on a move to reach a destination. A traveller always has to leave things behind. On the way to Jerusalem, people in Samaria wished Jesus and his company would stay with them, because they liked what they heard of him. Therefore, they were not happy to hear that Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem. So Jesus said, "Sorry." and moved on to the next village. That sounds not very nice on the part of Jesus. But we must realize that in the pursuit of our goal, we have to say "Good-bye" sometimes. Parents must know that, when their children grow up and leave home. Teachers must know that, too.

When someone you love dies, you have to say an ultimate "Good-bye" and leave the dead behind. When one of his followers asked him to wait for him because he had to bury his father, Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead." It sounds terrible. But it shows that Jesus trusted God and that his priority was with the living. Jesus was saying, "Your beloved one is already with God. What better place can there be for him? Leave the dead to God, and let us attend to the living. There are still many people who need to know the love of God." Jesus teaches us an art of letting go of the things that are beyond our control, in order to keep on moving towards the goals in the world of the living.

Lastly, Jesus warned us of the danger of looking back. He said, "Once you have started to plough, you can not keep looking back to attend the things you left behind or forgot." If you keep looking backwards, you will never get your job done. Remembering the past is sweet. But the past can not be a shackle that stops you to move forward. The past has to be the foundation on which you build a future. The past has to teach you lessons, and should not be a distraction.

Religion is a commitment. It involves the whole life, totally. And there is no turning back. It is not a shopping trip to pick and choose what you like, and ask for refund afterwards when you change your mind. You can not buy a religion like you buy a car. Religion is not like the flavour of the week. It is a commitment. We are Christians, and are committed to follow the way of God through the teaching and the example set by Jesus Christ. Let us move forward and let the past look after itself.

 

 

 

 

 

C: SOUND OF SILENCE – FOURTH WEEK OF JUNE

THE SOUND OF SHEER SILENCE

1 King 19:4 – 6, 11 – 15, Psalm 42,43 , Luke 8:35 – 39

June 23, 1995

The passage from the first Kings includes a very evocative expression, "the sound of sheer silence." Elijah was running away from his destiny. He was afraid to do what he was supposed to be doing. He feared for his life. He was so discouraged and disgusted with himself that he wanted to die. There was a fierce wind like a tornado that split the mountains, there was an earthquake that nearly swallowed up everything, and after that there was fire that nearly consumed everything. But God did not speak in those events. Then, the Bible says, there was the sound of sheer silence. At last Elijah heard it, the voice of God. The voice that told him to do exactly what he was avoid doing. To go back. To go back where the Queen was waiting to kill him. To go back to install a new king against the wish of the Queen Jezebel. What an awesome task. He did not want to do it. He was afraid to do it. The job was too big for him.

However, the really interesting point of the story is that such an awesome mission was not conveyed by big noisy and dramatic media, like tornadoes, earthquakes or fire. It came instead through in the sound of sheer silence. When Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus did not answer. He just stood there in silence. The real truth was conveyed in silence.

There is an important lesson for us here. The real message did not come with a bang, but in silence. Today, we are so used to hearing loud messages, in TV advertisements for example, with music, exaggerated language, sexy people, and special effects that we can not hear the small and subtle voices any more. We expect every message to amuse us. Even the news must be entertaining to watch, otherwise we ignore it or pay little attention to it. Before South African election began, genocide in Rwanda was unfolding a year ago. Mass murder was obviously more dramatic and exciting than an election. So Many international media left and went to Rwanda. And we rate our politicians as much on their TV presence as on their political goals. You see, if it is not fun, or funny, we switch the channel. We can hardly hear the inner voice that comes in silence. I think this is a problem.

Some twenty-three years ago, I was detained against my will for a few days in South Africa . It was not very serious, only three days confinement before I was kicked out of the country because of my Anti-Apartheid activities. But I nearly went crazy, mainly because I was worried about my seven year old daughter who was alone at home and did not know where I was. What made it worse was that I had nothing to read, or to write with, or to listen to, or to watch. There were just four walls. Nobody came to talk to me. You would think that there should be some sort of interrogation in that kind of a case. But I was not such a big fish. They didn”t care. They knew what to do with me. "Scare him a little, then and kick him out."

I was left alone with no explanation about why I was detained. I came face to face with myself, because there was nobody else except me. You would think that as a religious man, I would know how to cope with a situation like that. I would know how to make use of solitude as an opportunity to meditate, to pray, to think, to be alone with God. But I was not like that. I went mad. I wanted to scream, "Let me outa here. I will say anything. Just tell me why I am here, and tell me how long I have to stay here." In retrospect, I must admit, I was pathetic. You see, silence forced me to confront myself. And I didn”t handle it too well. Furthermore what happened to my life after that incident did not help me to reflect on what happened to me during those three days. When I was released, I became an instant hero among those who were fighting the Apartheid system in South Africa. I received a letter from Mitchell Sharp, then the minister of Foreign Affairs, was visited by the Canadian Ambassador, and was even mentioned in a United Nations document. I enjoyed a few months of fame. I did not need to reflect on my spiritual paucity. This is very different from Elijah”s experience. He failed, he was afraid, he was disgusted of himself. He wanted to die. So, unlike Elijah, I did not truly hear the sound of silence. I was too quickly intoxicated by the noise, which was praising me and preventing me to look into my spiritual life.

Our life is surrounded with noise all the time. We are so used to living with noises that we are no longer capable of being able to listen to our inner voice. We get bored when it is too quiet and maybe we find it hard to stay awake. I don”t remember who it was, but someone said one time that prayer is the deepest form of thinking. We pray publicly to be united with other people, to become of one mind. But we have to have another form of prayer life. We have to have a private prayer life. You can do it in any way you like, standing, sitting, or even on your back, but you do it alone. You don”t even have to say anything. You can just think and listen, but think deeply and listen in total honesty. It is like looking at yourself in a mirror alone. There is no point hiding anything, lying, or pretending. You confront yourself alone, and think. And in the silence, one may discover that one is not alone. There is a greater presence reflected there as well. That”s private prayer.

Because we are so busy doing things all the time, or are so constantly surrounded by noises and sights, we are beginning to forget how to sit and think, and thus rarely pray alone. Maybe our process of recovering our spiritual life begins here. Maybe, because we can not sit and listen to ourselves alone, we also can not really listen to our kids or to our spouse trying to say something to us. If we can not listen, sooner or later they stop trying to talk to us. The message of such silence is more powerful than any noisy chatter. We cann”t expect to be amused all the time. But kids are not always funny, especially after a long day of hard work. And your wife is not funny when she has something important to say.

But when you learn to hear your inner self, you may discover a startling truth, just like Elijah was confronted by his awesome mission. If you are sensitive enough to be able to hear your inner voice, you can also hear important messages conveyed in people”s endless talk which may not make sense on the surface. The amazing thing about the story of Elijah is that, after hearing the message from God, he left the place of silence. He went to do exactly what God told him to do, though he was deadly afraid to do it. This was the man who was so afraid of the job he had, he escaped into the desert and asked God if he was allowed to die. How did he find such courage to change? I think that the secret lies in Elijah”s ability to listen to the sound of sheer silence. If one can face oneself alone in silence, one can face anything.

B: SLEEPING THROUGH A STORM – 4TH WEEK OF JUNE

IF YOU WANT TO SLEEP THROUGH A STORM

1 Samuel 17:32-49, Psalm 133856 Mark 4:35-41

June 25, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

I admire anyone who drives into Montreal everyday, especially between 7 and 8:30 in the morning and 3 and 7 in the afternoon. I can feel my blood pressure accelerate every time I get caught in a traffic jam at the Mercier Bridge. But by far the worst time I had was when I drove to Dorval Airport to pick up my sister”s family in May. It was Saturday. The bridge was closed for construction except one lane. We thought we had plenty of time when we left home. But the traffic came to a standstill at Khanawake circle. It took more than one hour to cross the bridge. The arrival time of my family”s flight passed when we were moving inch by inch on the bridge. No one in my sister”s family spoke French and only one or two had little English. I knew they were tired having travelled all night with two small children. Even if I had a cellphone, what could I have done? It was an absolutely helpless situation. I was in a rage.

Reading today”s story in the Gospel, I could relate to disciple”s anger and distress during the storm. They must have felt helpless like I felt on the Mercier Bridge on that day in May. All through that ordeal, Muriel, my wife, was very sympathetic and supportive of me, but she didn”t seem to be as distressed as I was. But if Muriel had been sleeping like Jesus was during a storm, probably I would have rudely woken her up and demanded that she showed some anxiety like mine. Disciples found Jesus asleep in a terrible storm and must have thought, "How dare you?" They said, "Don”t you care if we all die?" How can anyone sleep through a storm?

On the other hand, if you think about it, anxiety is not only useless but also aggravating. The scriptures teach us about the futility of worrying and panicking. Jesus knew how to trust God and to stay calm, even when the circumstances around him seemed extremely dangerous. The question is; "Is trusting God and staying calm the same thing as giving up and doing nothing?" Some people may tell you to trust God and do nothing, because the situation is beyond your control and you can”t do anything about it. I don”t think that this Gospel story is teaching us such a fatalistic "do-nothing" attitude. The Bible also tells us stories that encourage us to be more active and to be more in control of our own situation.

Take the story of David and Goliath, for example. David faced a hopeless situation confronting an invincible giant who stopped a whole army”s advance single-handedly. David was a mere teenage shepherd wearing nothing but a loincloth, and for a weapon all he had was a sling-shot. This was how he went out to face the enemy giant. What reckless foolhardiness! Goliath was invincible, and he was arrogant. David knew he was small and weak. But he had a good mind and speed; and the courage to use them; most of all he trusted God. This was how a miracle happened and David defeated Goliath. Other soldiers trusted only their own armours, physical strength, and weapons, so they had no courage to use them when they saw a superior force. On the other hand, David trusted God, so he had enormous courage. Courage made creative juice flowing in him. A creative mind made David and his sling-shot mightier than 7 foot giant with his heavy armour and the sword.

When you know that you are not perfect, you will do two things. You do your best and trust others. If you don”t have capacity to trust, you feel that everything depends on you. But of course, you can not do everything, so you are in a constant state of frustration. That”s how you come to feel that the world can end on the Mercier Bridge, because you can not do anything about it. You stay awake night after night feeling helpless, worrying about things you can not do anything about. You become angry, anxious, distressed, and fall into a state of despair. But when you know your limit and know how to trust others, you can do your best and leave the rest to God. It is very interesting, isn”t it. When you know you are not perfect, you can function better and feel relaxed.

There was once a very able young man. He did everything so well, and he knew he was the best in many ways. Because he knew he was the best, he was incapable of trusting others; and because of this he always found faults in others. He felt he was the only one responsible enough to run the world. But he was never happy, because he always found some fault even in what he himself did. So he went to a very wise teacher, and asked him to help him. The teacher listened. He then sat there quietly for a long time. The young man did not like silence. He became irritated, and began to think that perhaps he had come to the wrong man and was wasting his time. At last the teacher opened his mouth and suggested they have tea. The teacher brought out a teapot and cups. He started to pour tea into a cup. Soon the cup became full but the teacher kept on pouring. Tea began to overflow making the clean tablecloth wet and brown. It started to drip onto the beautiful carpet. The young man could not stand any more and shouted at the teacher, "You”re spilling the tea all over the place." The wise man smiled and said, "When your cup is full, you are not ready to receive."

If you want to sleep comfortably through a storm of your life, you must know your limitations and learn to trust others. The most important, of course, is to learn to trust God. We are co-workers with God. By working with God, we make our world go around. The reason why the disciples were so afraid of the storm and became angry with Jesus was because they did not believe that God was in charge. They did not trust God. This is why they became deadly afraid when the situation seemed beyond their control, and angry with Jesus when they found him totally at ease.

Let us know our limits. The world is the Lord”s. Let us work with him to put our best into it, trusting that God will do the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

C: A MAN AND PIG – 4TH WEEK OF JUNE

A MAD MAN AND PIGS

1 Kings 19:1-4,8-15, Psalm 42&43, Luke 8:26-39

June 21, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

I was the coordinator of famine relief in Africa during the 80”s for the World Council of Churches. As soon as starving people arrived at the relief camp, they all went to the reception centre first. There a team of doctors and nurses made quick decisions about the condition of the new arrival. People who were in most serious condition received attention first, of course. They were carried to a feeding tent and the attendants gave them sugar water and easy-to-digest biscuits. They were under constant supervision to make sure that they received proper nourishment. People, who looked relatively fit, were given a sack of food each, and were told to go home after registration. But the persons who were too far gone and beyond any hope of recovery were carried into another tent and were laid down on a bare tarp. The staff people gave them biscuits and went away. But most of them did not even have strength to lift the biscuits to their mouths. They were basically left there to die. Life is cheap when you are poor. Most relief agencies did not have enough money for extra staff to give intensive care nor palliative care to the hopeless cases. Even a decade afterward, the sight of those people who were left to die haunts me.

We all know that people live longer in the rich countries than in the poor countries, because health care cost money. We are fortunate to live in a country where health care is available to any person, rich or poor. Not only is our country wealthy, but also we have a system to share the cost of health care. It is not always like that in other countries. Even in a rich country like the U.S, many people do not have access to medical care because of cost. I think it is terrible to have to deny someone care, because some one does not have money.

What is the price of human life? The story in today”s Gospel deals with this difficult question. The question becomes even more difficult when the person in question seems abnormal. Would you cure a mad man at the cost of two thousand pigs? Jesus refused to put a price tag on a human being, and believed that all available wealth must be shared to restore the wholeness of even one person. But obviously the owner of those pigs didn”t agree. He must have been an enormously wealthy person. When he discovered that his pigs were drowned to heal a mad man, he was very upset. He asked the authorities to throw Jesus out of the city.

It happened on the East side of the lake Galilee where people were not Jewish. When Jesus and his disciples reached the shore, a man who was possessed by many demons met him. The demons did not mention their names when Jesus asked them to identify themselves. Instead they told him how many of them there were. They said they were a "legion". Legion is a Roman terminology for a division of six thousand foot soldiers. This sick man was possessed by many demons, six thousand of them. I suppose one could say that in today”s terms he had suffered from schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder.

The demons could see who Jesus was and what kind of power he possessed. They called him the "Son of God of the most high." Perhaps one of the outcomes of this man”s schizophrenia was that it made him more sensitive to what is hidden and not obvious on the surface in people. Even in the land of Gentiles where people had no notion of Messiah, this man could sense spiritual quality in Jesus. But what a sad condition he had to live in! He lived in a grave yard among the tomb stones; among the dead. He was not a member of the community of the living. He was stripped of any dignity; he wore no clothes. Nobody trusted him. So he was chained and fettered. Until recently, we too used to incarcerate schizophrenic people like prisoners. It must have been an unbearable situation for an extra sensitive person. He must have been living in a perpetual state of rage. No wonder he repeatedly broke chains and fetters, in rage!

In order to heal him and bring him back into the community of the living, Jesus ordered the demons to go into the pigs. According to the accounts of the same story in other Gospels, there were two thousand pigs. It was a great financial loss for the owner of the pigs when they drowned. We really don”t know what exactly happened. But it is important for us to think of the reason why the writers of the Gospels decided to select this particular story and to include it in the Bible. I believe that the point is; the value of human being can not be measured with numbers and cost.

This man had a severe mental condition. A legion of demons sounds like an enormous psychological problem. It had taken two thousand pigs to get rid of all the demons that possessed him. A very expensive psychiatric treatment indeed. Unfortunately, in our normal way of calculating costs and benefits, if a problem is too costly to repair, we say we cut the cost and let the problem take its course. That is what we did at the feeding camps in Ethiopia. We could not afford the cost of looking after dying people. But that was not the way of Jesus Christ. Jesus was saying to us in this story, "A human being is worth any cost, and the community should share the cost."

Another important point of the story is in the last part of the story. The man who was healed asked Jesus if he could be a disciple and follow him. But Jesus said, "Go home and tell others what God has done." Healing is not complete until a person is restored fully into a community. The worst thing that happened to the man who lived among the tomb stones was alienation from the community of the living. We all get sick sometime. We all age, and eventually die. But that is all part of life, and that is not the ultimate mortal problem. But falling out from community is not what God wants. Separation is a serious damnation. Healing is not complete until relationship is restored.

On this day to celebrate the 70th anniversary, let us give thanks to God who in his grace has thus far sustained this community of caring at Howick United Church. Let us affirm one basic article of faith that we, the church, are a community of people who always put people first; before the building, before the money, before anything else we may be very proud of. When we acknowledge this and truly love one another, as Christ told us, we have a community of believers that gives us the wholeness of our being. And that means true health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C: THE CHURCH BEGAN WITH A WIND – PENTECOST

THE CHURCH BEGAN WITH A GUST OF WIND

 Joel 2: 26 – 29, Acts 2: 1 – 13

The Church began with a gust of wind. There was a sound of a gust of wind, and spirit came down like tongues of fire. And suddenly a dispirited group of people came alive and began to speak boldly about their faith in public. That”s how the Church began, according to the Acts of Apostles.

What was that wind or that fire? I don”t know but it must have been something potent to revive a miserable bunch of discouraged people.

My father used to tell us kids about the days when radio broadcasting service and telephone service began in Japan many years ago. Telephone poles were built and wired. People were told that those wires would carry messages by what was called telephone. So people hung letters on the wires. Nothing happened, the letters were not delivered, of course. So when the government presented the idea that messages could be carried in the air, when the radio broadcasting began, nobody believed it. Nevertheless, the day when radio broadcasting was supposed to begin, everybody in the village gathered in the village community hall. A huge machine with a pair of earphones was brought in. And the time came. The man with the earphones listened intensely. He heard nothing. So the next man tried. Again, nothing, no sound. Another Government lie, and everybody left. They discovered later that it was the wrong day. The broadcasting began the next day.

You see, the point of the story is that no matter what a wonderful machine you have, if there is no radio waves in the air, the radio receiver is useless. It is like buying an expensive car with all sorts of bells and whistles, when you really want to go nowhere with it. You just want a nice decoration in your garage. What”s the point? You see, the church is not just a building, a minister, or a bunch of people. It has to have something else. We call that something else, Spirit. In other words, the church must catch the spirit of Christ and create a community of love. Otherwise, what”s the point?

You may be interested to know that in Hebrew language, in which the Bible was written originally, the word for Spirit is the same word for breath, breathe, and wind. So when God created man and woman, and when he breathed life into them, he also put spirits into Adam and Eve. It is essential for us to breathe the spirit in and out as much as we need air every moment. We have something unexplainable in us which distinguishes us from vegetables. We call that the soul which is like our lungs, and it has to be filled by spirit, like the lungs need air, to make us human. And the church nourishes us with spiritual food, like the table provides the essential nourishment for our physical body.

I once saw a gentle and kindly woman having turned into something a bit less than a full human. She was a member of my congregation in Vancouver. She had terminal cancer. Towards the end of her life, the pain became too intense, constant and unbearable, she required dangerously much morphine. The doctor decided to disconnect some nerves, so she did not feel the pain any more. After her nerves were cut, she looked peaceful with a perpetual smile in her face. She spoke normally, but there was something missing. I could only described her condition as someone who lost the spirit. She lived only a few days after. Another friend, who was a brilliant criminal lawyer, was diagnosed as having a cancerous brain tumour on the side of the brain that controlled intelligence and feelings. He was told that he could live on for a long time after a surgical removal of that tumour, if he does not mind living like a vegetable for the rest of his life. He opted not to have the surgery, and remained an active brilliant lawyer for a few more years. He died a very painful death, but his intelligence and feelings remained intact. You see he died like a human being, not like a vegetable. The church does not give you food or money. The church teaches you to breathe in and out spirit.

Now, the church in Canada is facing a turning point. We have to make a decision. Should we remain spiritual and small? Or should we become big and wealthy? You can opt for size and wealth, if you really want. A lot of television churches do that. They earn millions of dollars. But I say, let us remain spiritual and authentic as the church. I say this because I believe that the problem we have as the church is not declining membership nor the loss of power in society. It is the loss of spiritual values in society. And the church does not seem to be giving leadership, because it is too busy worrying about our declining numbers and finance.

As you may remember, there was a terrorist attack using sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system that killed scores and injured thousands of people. When we were in Tokyo recently, a cult known as Aum Shinri Kyo under the leadership of one blind charismatic man was found to be responsible for this terrorist attack and the perpetrators of this hideous crime were arrested, including the cult leader. They believed in the immanent end of the world, and the terrorist attack was supposed to have induced the last war of Armageddon to bring about the apocalypse – the end of the world. However, what is remarkable about this group and people involved in the crime was the fact that there were many well educated people directly involved in the crime. Many scientists with PHD degrees and medical doctors and lawyers became members of this religion and used their training to plan and execute the attack. Many commentators agreed that this was partly the result of a society successful in building a dynamic economy and technological advancement without any respect for spiritual values.

We are by nature spiritual beings, as well as having a physical existence. Mere material fulfilment does not give us a full sense of being. If social status and wealth are all we need to live like a human being, how come there is so much unhappiness among the rich and famous? How come there are so many personal problems in the richest countries like U.S., Canada and Japan?

The church has to bear some responsibility for this state of unhappiness. The church has been too preoccupied with the size of membership, money and buildings. We neglected spiritual matters. Spirit is the thing that started the church. And we have neglected it. Many people seek spiritual fulfilment, but can not find them in traditional religions. That”s why so many people go to strange, and often fraudulent religious groups.

When the old mill was turned into this Church seventy years ago, those stones were used to turn the site from a business enterprise into a house of God where people would hear the good news about God”s love and the message that they were to care for each other. If we lose that spirit, there is not much point continuing. But if we keep that spirit, no matter how small the group that meets here becomes, this church built with the stone of an old mill, will not revert back into a mere money making enterprise. It will remain a place of worship where people are comforted, and encouraged. You never know. You may offer a real cure of the ills of the world. David Lochhead once described Howick United Church to me as, "a spot of sanity in the chaotic world."

May you continue to breathe with the spirit of faithfulness, and send many gusts out. You may transform the world around you.

B: CRAZY? MAYBE BUT ALIVE – PENTECOST

CRAZY? MAYBE. BUT ALIVE

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, John 15:26-27

May 18, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

When the powerful IBM computer, called "Deep Blue", beat the world”s chess champion Garry Kasparov, it ignited a big discussion. The question is: "Can machines take over human beings?" The answer, of course, is "No". We make machines. A creature can never take over the creator. But the fact that this question keeps coming back in movies and novels shows how little we understand the spiritual nature of our being and our relationship with God. The reason why Kasparov lost the game is because he got frustrated and tired, not because the computer was better. The fact that Kasparov had emotions and physical limitations makes him a better creature than a computer, because it proved that he was alive and that made him closer to God. Deep Blue is only a boxful of pieces of metal that is programmed by human beings to very quickly compute all the chess moves ever made by the best chess players. We know that computers are really stupid machines which stop functioning when we handle them wrongly. It does not have the capacity to go beyond the human mind. Computers never understand why we become crazy sometimes.

Computers can not be sad or happy. They just do what they are told. They have no emotions, feelings, or intuition. On the other hand, even a little baby can recognize effortlessly her mother”s face across a crowded room. Something unexplainable is planted between two human beings when they are bonded, which no machine can reproduce. No scientists knows how to make machines laugh, because they can not make computers understand humour. Also machines can never learn from mistakes. But humans can, because we have a storehouse of capacities to convert experiences into insights and wisdom. But the same token, we should understand the happenings on the day of Pentecost not so much as literal facts but as a uniquely human and spiritual experience. Computers also lack the subtlety to translate language effectively or put the feeling into poetry or the passion into music.

When the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in many different languages which only foreigners understood. But some people thought that those disciples were crazy – they probably had too much wine and were drunk. I wonder why some people understood the language, but others didn”t and thought the whole thing was outrageous. The beginning of the Christian church obviously was not a result of a well calculated and planned event like an Academy Award ceremony. It was a happening that was inspired by a mysterious force which no human vocabulary could adequately explain. We must realize at the outset that understanding language is not just a matter of knowing the vocabularies and grammar of a nation. It involves learning a whole culture, history, and tradition. Most importantly, it involves ingredients that makes persons human.

When marriages break up, they often say, "We don”t speak the same language." It is about a break-down in communication. Sharing of whole persons is not happening. A famous Canadian pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, was interviewed by Vicky Gabereau in CBC a few days ago. His mother Keiko was a member of my congregation in Vancouver. The parents were pen pals before they met. She lived in Tokyo and he was in Vancouver. They corresponded for a few years before Keiko came to Vancouver for a visit. A few weeks later they were married. When I met Keiko and John, neither of them was fluent in the language of the partner – Japanese or English. And yet they have had a wonderful marriage. They spoke the same language even though they spoke in the languages of different nations. It was the sharing of emotions, feelings, and everything else that makes a human different from a machine, not just words. And I suspect that a similar thing, which went further than the mere utterance of foreign words, was what happened on the day of Pentecost.

When the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit, the Bible speaks about strange phenomena occurring, like a sound of a strong wind or a bits of fire like tongues dancing around the room,. It was a powerful experience that went beyond the capacity of any human vocabulary to explain. They felt an impulsive to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So they began to speak the languages understood by those who were visiting Jerusalem. All those languages that the disciples were supposed to have spoken were Mediterranean area languages. They were like Scandinavian languages. If you ask a Swede how to communicate with a Dane, the answer would be something like, "You speak Swedish with two candies in your mouth. The Dane would understand what you say." You sort of get by speaking French in Italy. The same thing.

It finally dawned on the disciples how powerful the message of the God of love was. They were no longer a bunch of frightened people hiding behind doors. They desperately wanted to tell others how wonderful it is to know the story of Jesus. The atmosphere of the room was so charged that the only way to describe the scene was the language of fire and wind. They could not contain themselves. Many of us do the same thing from time to time. When something exciting and wonderful happens, one has to tell somebody; you can not keep it as a secret. A bunch of kids burst into the church last Sunday, and started to tell me about their brand new family van. All of them spoke at once to me, and did not make too much sense. They were speaking about the doors that open on both sides, etc. So I had to see the van in the parking lot. It is not only kids: we all do that. The disciples went outside and started to tell people of their experiences in whatever the way they knew how. I can understand that they sounded a bit crazy.

When the other party does not understand what we want to tell them, we have to learn somehow to communicate. People learned many languages to tell the stories of Jesus throughout the history. I was amazed many times how early missionaries learned strange languages so well and so fast. They translated the Bible, and even wrote dictionaries. Most of them did not earn much money doing so. The tradition of the Pentecost has continued for many centuries. It was not just the question of learning to speak in other people”s languages; it was about communicating messages. Such communication often happens despite limitations in language abilities.

In one sense, the disciples were crazy on the day of Pentecost. It was dangerous to openly admit that they were the followers of the way of Jesus of Nazareth; it was madness to expose their belief about a criminal who was executed for blasphemy, sedition, and subversive ideas. They were crazy. But were they? They were alive with Spirit. We are also alive, not machines. So we do crazy things when we are excited. God help us if we only act in a well calculated logical manner, like a machine.

Machines will continue to make life easier, healthier, richer, and yet also more puzzling. And human beings will continue to care, ultimately about the same things they always have; about themselves, about one another and about God. On those things machines and science will never make any difference; they never will. Machines and science will never take away from those things; Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

C: WHERE DO YOU FIND GOD? – FIRST WEEK OF JUNE

WHERE DO YOU FIND GOD?

Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31, Psalm 8, John 16:12-15

June 7, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

Every mornings a cat comes to visit our front porch. It comes from the north side, walks on the same side of the front porch, and walks away towards the south. I”ve never seen the cat. But I am quite sure it is the same cat. Why do I know this then? I see its paw marks when it is wet outside. When it snows, I can see the same paw marks more clearly on exactly the same path. This is just like the way we know that there is God. Nobody has seen God. But the world is full of foot marks of God.

Look at the face of the person next to you. Do you know that it is almost impossible to find exactly the same face anywhere in the world? There are about five billion people on this planet. But no two persons look exactly the same. I think it is amazing. If you take one inch deep of earth from a square foot area in the woods, and look at them with a magnifying glass, the scientists say, you will find on the average 1,356 living creatures. 865 ticks, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 19 beetles, and 12 other kinds of living things. If you are talking about microscopic creatures, one spoon full of dirt has two billion bacteria, millions of fungi, algae, and protozoa. I can not believe all that came about accidentally. It is so amazing that we must say they are all God”s work. I believe that God created them. That”s the only explanation. We see God”s foot marks everywhere in our world.

It is amazing, also, that we instinctively know what we can do and what can not do. The Bible says that this is because the Spirit of God lives in all of us and talks to us. It is called "Wisdom". Sometimes, other people teach it to us. In those times, they are teaching us according to their wisdom – the same Spirit of God. Sometimes, we learn the wisdom through experiences. Once you burn your finger, you will never touch a fire ever again. You know you are not supposed to hurt other people. You know you should share, because when you do to others, some other time when you are in need, someone will share with you. All these are voices from the wisdom. I believe that they come from the spirit of God. You can not see God, but you can hear God when you listen to the wisdom.

Most importantly, the love of God is in everyone. When you are kind to another person, you are doing what the love of God in you is telling you to do. All of us have bits and pieces of Jesus in us. When you learn more about Jesus, we learn more and more the better ways to love other people. Here again, we can not see God nor hear the voice of God, but we can feel the love of God in kindness, and in love between family and friends.

God is everywhere, even though we don”t see him nor hear him. We can not see God like we see flowers in the garden. But when we see the flowers, we can see God”s foot marks in them.

 

 

A: ABOUT DINNER – PALM SUNDAY

NOW ABOUT THIS DINNER

Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31, Matthew 26:26-35

Tad Mitsui, March 31, 1996

In our church, there are two most important rituals. They are Baptism and Holy Communion. It is interesting that those Sacraments relate to basic events in our daily life; washing and eating. In Baptism, we join the community of faith through a symbolic act of cleaning ourselves with water. In Communion, we affirm the sharing nature of our community by symbolically eating a meal together, in doing so we also remember that Jesus made an ultimate act of sharing in giving his own life.

The ordinariness in our most sacred religious acts shows a very important aspect of our faith. In our spiritual tradition, there is no division between sacred and secular. This is God”s world. So everyday ordinary act of life is holy. Where we stand in our daily life at home or in our work is a holy ground. One day, last week, I was in a car with two of you. The conversation was fun. But at one point, one man said to another, "You watch your language. The minister is here." I assumed his remark was meant to be a joke, but had it been serious, it would be very unfair to the minister. He would miss out on all the fun of this world. There should not be the world of fun separate from God”s world, because there is only one world, which is God”s world. For our God, every ordinary thing is his business also. There is something wrong in our faith, if we feel that God takes fun out of our lives. He doesn”t. If it is important to us, it is important to God, also.

Eating is one of our most important functions. Therefore, it is also important in our faith. We spend a lot of time thinking, planning, acquiring ingredients, preparing, and eating food. We spend more time in learning to cook, reading recipes, and talking about what we ate. I am sure that we spend more time on food related activities, perhaps next to sleeping, than on any other daily task. Human beings used to spend a lot more time, growing, hunting, preparing food. In fact, until a century ago, food production was almost the full time occupation of a majority of people. Because the activities relating to food gathering and consumption took more time, food was arguably more precious than it is to us today. Thus it is not surprising that much religious significance come to be attached to it. If it is important for humans, it is important to God also.

There were many religious instructions about the selection and preparation of food. Many of them made a lot of sense, especially in a hot climate and with less than perfect sanitary conditions. Much of worship service was concerned with the act of dedicating food items to God. In fact, the first five books of the Old Testament are filled with instructions about preparation of food and about offering food items to God as acts of worship. Faithful Jewish people still today observe many of those ancient practices. It is called keeping kosher. So paradoxically food is important in our religious life, because it is so ordinary. There is no separation between ordinary and sacred.

There is another reason why food had much spiritual significance. It is due to the collective nature of food production and consumption. One of the reasons why human beings thrive despite our many physical shortcomings is because we are good at working together in groups producing and sharing food. Any predatory animal, which operates alone, may look fierce and strong, but actually has less chance of survival. Ants and bees may look tiny and vulnerable, but they have potential to outlive eagles and lions, because they are better at working together and sharing food. We are one of the best animals at acquiring and producing food together. Peaceful relationships are the most important element in enabling such cooperation and sharing. Justice is an important part of the code of sharing. It was not just profit that enabled human beings to become so efficient in food production. We should not forget that only a community bound by a code of justice and peace can work together well.

Food also has important religious significance because most of the food we eat comes from living organisms. In fact, we can live because many lives are sacrificed for us. This is where the notion of sacrifice emerged as an important spiritual element of food preparation and consumption. Ancient people were familiar with the sight and sound and gore of animals which were being killed for food. So thanksgiving before the meals had another dimension, which we seldom recognize today. People in earlier times remembered with thanks those who lost their lives to sustain lives.

Unfortunately, we have sanitized the process of slaughter of animals. It is shielded from the eyes of most of us. So the element of sacrifice has been lost in our idea of food. In an African country where I once lived, it was the custom to slaughter a cow for the dinner at every wedding and funeral, and at other special occasions. To kill the animal before all the invited guests was an important ritual. The animal was bound and tied down to the ground. An elder of the village would slit the throat with a sharp knife. It was important that the blood was spilt on the ground as a symbolic act of sharing the life of the sacrificed animal with God. Most of us who came from the west could not eat the dinner. We were not used to seeing such a gore before a meal. But witnessing the agony of the animal was an important part of recognizing the nature of sacrifice. By sanitizing the process of slaughter, we have encouraged people to forget the cost of our food, and thus diminished our appreciation of it.

The enslaved Jews took the best looking lambs without blemish, slaughtered them for the last meal before their liberation, and smeared their doors with the blood of the lambs. This was how the angel of death passed over the Jewish households. They also sacrificed the young and best-looking animal annually to ask God”s forgiveness for the sins committed in the past year. So for the Jewish people, dinner was not only a symbol of the sharing community where justice and peace prevailed, but it also signified what we owed to other creatures who sacrificed their lives for us. So, as we partake in this symbolic meal of communion, we not only remember the last supper Jesus shared with his followers, but also we cerebrate the everyday meals we share with our families and friends including last week”s pancake breakfast, the Spring luncheon, and Fall turkey dinner! We are what we eat. The everyday defines our lives. Yet they are not just ordinary dinners. As we enjoy the food and the company, meals remind us also of our obligation to share and to be grateful for the cost of food, in labour and sacrifice. Holy Communion reflects holiness of our daily food. I hope that this does not spoil the fun of eating. It”s like having fun, even in a company of a minister.

 

 

 

C: HE BECAME LIKE US – PALM SUNDAY

HE HUMBLED HIMSELF AND BECAME LIKE US

Luke 19:28-40

1. Some of you may have noticed that when I came to worship with you for the first time, on March 19, I was driving a Cadillac, silver Cadillac too. I will tell you how I ended up with a Cadillac later. I frankly did not like driving it, but not because it was difficult to get used to. It was because I hated the thought of the way people might look at me driving this car. "How did he get to be filthy rich like that?" Of course, this reaction includes an element of jealousy, too. It is not easy to feel friendly towards the rich and famous. I knew people would see the car, and not the person in it.

Until I came to be with you at Howick, I did not own a car. For twelve years, I had a job in Toronto that took me out of the country a lot of the time. My office was in downtown and we lived in downtown. Whenever I was in town, I rode a bicycle. So when I came to the Conference office, some people wondered how I could do the job without a car. You know, I managed quite well. Because I came to like cycling, I did not want to give up my bike. I cycled to the office, and went to out of town places by buses and trains. I also rented cars, when I had to. I rented so many times that every now and then the rental company gave me free weekends. On March 19, they were so very sorry that they did not have my favourite Nissan. They were very sorry that they only had a Cadillac. Trust me it was true.

Some people who knew that I did not own a car did not like the way I travelled. Maybe they thought that I was cheap, I don”t know. Somehow they could not understand why I would prefer my bike over a car. But I feel healthy when I cycle. Besides, it gets me from point A to Point B, while saving a lot of money. Only thing is that you have to organize your life a little better, because it takes more time to get there. But it is not impossible.

2. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. In modern terms, not on a Cadillac, but on a bicycle. A public relation consultant would despair. Yet, the whole city was excited about him. "A great teacher, a healer of the sick, a friend of the friendless, came to our city." Thousands came to welcome him. And he chose a donkey to ride. A pregnant woman rode a donkey, because it is low and steady. But it is an awkward, stubborn, and ugly animal, a beast of burden which normally carried only things. Not a means of transportation for a victorious leader.

3. So how should we see this Jesus who gets where he is going in the most unlikely way? God did not have to become fragile human like us. Like the ancient Jews, we could have continued to hear his word through the prophets. God loved us so much that he was not like a General sending young troops to the front to their probable death while staying comfortably behind in the headquarters. That was not God”s way. God”s way was to become like us, and so he rode a lowly donkey ahead of the disciples towards certain suffering. This was not a motorcade in a victory parade. It meant that God was ready to share our happiness, as well as suffering with us in our suffering. A friend of mine, Ko Koyama, who teaches at Union Seminary in New York city said, "God moves with a speed of 3 miles an hour, because a poor person who can not own a car walks with that speed. God moves with a poor person.

4. So God came into the world in the form of a human person called Jesus. He came as a citizen of an occupied, despised and oppressed people, and grew up as a son of a poor carpenter. He knew the humiliation of growing up as a person out of dubious birth. Trusted friends and followers betrayed him, even his mother did not understand him. And in the end, he died a painful death like a common criminal. He did not have to do it that way. He was almighty God. But you see, the difference between our kind of power and God”s is that we humans wants to exercise power for ourselves at others” expense, while God exercises it in order to love us. His love was so powerful that he was ready to make himself totally powerless. This sounds contradictory: in order to be almighty in love, he became powerless. He was willing to slow down to 3 miles an hour, to move at our speed. Choose a donkey over a stallion – maybe even a bike over a Cadillac – if that”s what it took to be at our side. That was the purpose of the incarnation, of the journey into Jerusalem: the journey that led into and beyond death. A journey that seemed impossible by a means we would expect.

A: WINDS OF HOPE – PENTECOST

WINDS OF HOPE

Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, John 7:37-39

May 23, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

People saw disciples on the day of Pentecost and thought they were drunk. Obviously Peter felt obliged to explain what was happening to them. He said, "Please, people, listen. It is only nine in the morning. We are not drunk." But they had good reason to think that the disciples were drunk or crazy because of their strange behaviours.

Once, a man called me crazy, too. I was so surprised that it took the wind out of me. I had just finished my master”s degree and was preparing to go to Africa. I was selected to be a leader of a group of volunteer students in Nigeria. I met a man at a party at the University, who asked me why I was going to Africa. I tried to explain to him that it was volunteer work. But he didn”t understand me. There was no money in it, neither was there much to see in Eastern Nigeria. He thought I was crazy, THERE SHOULD BE MORE MONEY AFTER I GOT MY GRADUATE DEGREE. He thought I was wasting my time.

I didn”t understand why he didn”t understand me. I was so happy and proud of myself to be chosen. To him, I suppose, I looked like one of those people who grew up in a cocoon, and had never been told about the real world. We lived in two different worlds, he and I. I grew up in a manse and made all my friends in the church. My parents did not teach me much about money or other facts of life. My heroes were missionaries. It was normal for me to think about venturing into an unknown world to do some good work. That”s how I was brought up. Probably, the world in which he was brought up and had lived was the normal world. Likely, more people lived in his world than in mine. No wonder he thought I was crazy. He thought that I had been living in a dream world that didn”t exist. I thought that my world was a better one. Two worlds in which we lived were so far apart and the gap so deep that it would have taken a miracle to be able to see the other world. After all evening arguing who was right, I did not change his mind, neither did he change mine.

There are certain things in all of us that are almost impossible to change. You may laugh if some one says, "My mind”s made up. Don”t confuse me with facts." But all of us can be so set in our ways that they can be beyond reason. You can call it habit, mindset, personality, or upbringing. Whatever you call it, it is something that is hard to change.

But from time to time, people do change their attitudes and opinions. Some changes are so fundamental that you think you are seeing a different person. Some changes happen very suddenly, while some are so slow and so gradual that you can hardly see them happening, like watching a cactus grow. But changes do happen, and some of them are complete "transformations." Insects go through such complete transformation from a larva to a butterfly, which is called metamorphosis. We humans do not change appearances as much as insects do, but the internal transformation can be as complete as metamorphosis. We call that conversion. It would take the Holy Spirit to make such a transformation, which is almost like crossing a big and deep gap into another world.

The transformation recorded in the Acts of Apostles was such a change. Take Peter, for example. When Jesus was on trial at the Chief Priest”s palace, Peter was so afraid to be associated with him. He lied and said that he didn”t know the prisoner. Even after his encounter with the risen Christ, he was still afraid to be seen in public and stayed with friends inside of a house with all the doors locked. They stayed like that for seven weeks. As they talked and prayed, one day they were overcome by the realization that they were the witnesses to the astounding love of God, demonstrated in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Then something extraordinary happened. Luke described it only as something like a gust of winds and the tongues of fire. Obviously this is figurative language. They found no other adequate words to describe what happened inside of themselves.

The result was extraordinary. They were not afraid any more. It was like they crossed over into another world. They were no longer afraid of risks in speaking about Jesus Christ. They wanted everybody to understand what they wanted to say. So they started to speak the languages of many lands. People thought the disciples were drunk, if not mad. But it happens every time the spirit moves; people begin to behave differently, often in the extraordinary ways. The Spirit of Jesus Christ transforms us.

There is a moving scene in the Academy Award winning film "Life is Beautiful." A of a Jewish man forced her way into a Nazi extermination camp simply because she wanted to be near her son and husband. She didn”t have to go, because she was not Jewish. Love was stronger than the fear of hardship and death. But this is not an exceptional story. It happens all the time around us. People do all sorts of crazy things because of love.

The story of Pentecost sounds quite extraordinary. It was, and it wasn”t. The transformation of the disciples during the seven weeks after the crucifixion was remarkable. They could not find adequate words to describe what changed them so completely. But if you think about some brave acts of love you see around us, Pentecost was not all that extraordinary. How can any person who is by nature self-serving, transform him/herself into a loving parent, brother or sister, or kind friend and neighbour? But we see that all the time. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of Lord Jesus Christ intervenes when we love someone. Pentecost happens every day. Wherever the winds of hope blow, God is in action through his Spirit.

 

YEAR A: GOODNESS OR RIGHTEOUSNESS? – FIRST WEEK OF JUNE

TO BE GOOD OR TO BE RIGHT.

Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33 , Matthew 9:9-13

June 5, 2005, Picture Butte

I go to the same church where a certain infamous former-member of Lethbridge City Council worships with her family. However, I always admire the way my fellow worshippers rally around her and her family. They make it clear that she has friends. This gesture must give her tremendous sustenance in a community where many people still say and write terrible things about her. Their act of kindness very much follows the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus never made the past an issue, when he made friends.

When we can not reconcile what is good and what is right, we often choose mistakenly righteousness as the Christian way not goodness. In this respect, Jesus often surprises us, because he didn’t first ask what’s right, but asked what’s good.

Matthew was a tax collector. But Jesus not only had dinner with him, but also made him his disciple. No wonder the righteous people like Pharisees were appalled. When Jesus was living, the Roman occupation authorities contracted selected Jewish persons to administer taxation on a commission basis. In other words, tax collection was privatized. The tax collectors invented many methods to impose taxes. Many of them took bribes, pounced on the poor and weak who could not complain, and often made fortunes by ruthlessly imposing taxes thus getting fat commissions. They were not only corrupt, but also sinners and unclean in religion. They belonged to the same class with lepers, prostitutes, and thieves. They were not allowed to attend religious services. They were also traitors working for the enemy. They became rich but they were outcasts. Of course, they had no friends.

But there must have been those who were just doing a job to earn a living? There were less corrupt and would have loved to be accepted by society. Matthew must have been one of them. This is why, when he was called to be Jesus’ disciple, he had no hesitation to follow him, leaving his job and money behind. The encounter with open-minded Jesus gave him courage to get out of a profitable but questionable occupation.

From time to time, we run into a situation where we find ourselves in a bad company but do not have courage to get out. Jesus understood of people like Matthew. And if you feel the pain of conscience, Jesus, like a doctor, can help you. But if you don”t feel guilt, no one can help you. This is why it is so important to admit that there is a problem in your life and to recognize that you are in need of help.

This is the problem of the people who consider themselves righteous like Pharisees when Jesus was living. They don’t acknowledge that there is any problem in their lives. They are proud to be righteous, and they forget to be good people. They are too busy being right and forget to be loving and kind. They are law-abiding but heartless. They forget that laws are instruments of justice and mercy. Laws that are not applied with justice and mercy are like the tools you don’t know how to use. The worst problem, however, is the fact that they don’t see any problem in obeying laws faithfully without being loving.

Paul described this state of empty piety in his letter to Corinthians, "If I have all knowledge of God”s words, ability to preach wonderful sermons, faith to move mountains, charity to give everything including life itself, but if I don”t have love, I am nothing." If we do not have kindness and mercy in our hearts, any visible signs of righteousness can be an empty shell. We are easily be hypocrites.

If you are totally convinced that you have no problem in your life, you are worse than those who have problems and regret it. People who know the pain of guilt have a much better chance of being made whole. If you do not admit that you have a problem, no one can help you. If you think that you know everything you need to know, the world is closed for you. You slam the door and shut yourself out of future. Then no one can help you.

This is why Jesus thought that the sinners, who knew that there was something wrong with them, had far better chance of being saved than the righteous people who believed that they needed no help. He said, "A healthy person does not need a doctor." Furthermore, sick persons who do not acknowledge their illness have absolutely no chance of getting better because they never agree to go to the doctor. They closed the door to health by themselves. Pain of guilt is a signal. Through pain, God tells you that you need to seek help, to change and to grow.

Justice and righteousness must be applied mercifully. Laws must be based on love. We must remind ourselves that Jesus was a good and loving person. And he tells us to be good persons too.

Let us not be afraid to acknowledge our problems and weaknesses. Also let us accept those who are honest about their weaknesses. Then there is an opening for God to come into your lives.

 

 

B: WHO IS MY MOTHER? – 1ST WEEK OF JUNE

WHO IS MY MOTHER?

II Cor. 4:13-18, Psalm 138(#73 Mark 3:20-21 & 31-34

June 8, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

One of the most difficult experiences for all of us is a family conflict. It shakes up our sense of security. Your conviction is put to a severe test when it is challenged by someone you love dearly in your family. My father was disowned by his parents when he decided to become a Christian minister. Up to that point, he had followed his parents” wishes and he had been studying to become a physician. However, his conviction that he was called by God became stronger. He left a medical school and went to Tokyo to go to a seminary. He lost all family support and had to work his way through the seminary. Jesus also ran into the same kind of difficulty with his family earlier in his ministry and suffered rejection by his mother and brothers. In Howick, too, I heard of some family quarrels at the time of Church Union. Considering this, perhaps this passage is especially appropriate for Anniversary Sunday.

When his mother and brothers heard that Jesus was openly challenging the Sabbath laws and became a target of hatred of the leaders of the society, they thought that he had gone insane. So they came to nab him, to avoid further embarrassment to the family and save him from endangering his life. They were going to take him back to Nazareth, to the carpenter”s workshop where he belonged. How did Jesus react, when the disciples told him that his mother and brothers were looking for him? "Who is my mother?" he said, as though he was denying any relationship with his own mother. "Who are my brothers?" he continued. Looking at the disciples, he said, "You are, because you are the ones who obey God”s commandments." Was he in despair because his family did not understand him? Or was he being spiteful? Either way, the situation looks sad. In a way, it is reassuring that our Lord Jesus went through a real life situation like the ones we sometimes face. What does this episode tell us about family conflicts? I am going to make three points.

First of all, family members can be amazingly ignorant about each other. We think we know each other in a family. Indeed we do. But we can overlook many things because we assume we know everything about everybody in a family. Familiarity can make you blind. When we think we know everything, we lose a sense of wonder. We refused to be surprised. We even lose a sense of respect for someone or something we think we know very well. This is why I don”t like to preach in the church where I grew up. They know me too well. They still see that naughty boy who switched off all the lights in the church for fun, during the Christmas Eve Service. It is difficult to get the message across to those people who only see me when I was fifteen years old. You work hard to raise your children, so you know them well. That does not mean you can lose respect for them. Never lose respect for whom you know well.

Secondly, the Gospel story teaches us that there are wider circles of family outside of our immediate flesh and blood. Jesus said to the disciples, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? You are my mother. You are my brothers." Jesus was not being disrespectful of his own family. He was speaking about the family which is wider than immediate flesh and blood. In the story of creation, there is a line, "A man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." "Cling" is a very graphic word. When you get married, you must leave your parents. If you still cling to your mother or father after the marriage, if you are not ready to leave your parents; you are not ready for marriage. Your spouse must become closer to you than to your parents. Likewise, we must widen the circle of our family as we grow. You find a teacher, a neighbour, or a friend you come to respect and come to love very much. Those people become almost like a mother or a father. A wider circle of family is a sign of your maturity. That does not mean you are abandoning your real parents. Your family is becoming bigger. When you find a group of friends who believe in the same things, like to do the same things, go to the same church, or just enjoy hanging around together, they become like brothers and sisters. The world will be a wonderful place to live, if many more people become like our mother, father, brothers and sisters. We aim to make our church like a family. That is one way to create heaven on earth.

Finally, sometimes a real test of authentic relationship comes when you are confronted with truth. What do you do when someone you love very much disagrees with you about what you firmly believe in? Jesus” mother and his brothers thought he was out of his mind, when he acted on his convictions. Jesus believed that he was following God”s commandment. My grandparents thought that my father was disrespectful of them. He, on the other hand, thought that he was following God”s call. Do you obey God or respect your flesh and blood and go against your belief? This is a difficult question.

There was an ambitious Samurai, who was the most powerful warlord in Japan in the fourteenth century. His name was Kiyomori. His oldest son, Shigemori, was the best strategist in an art of war, and the army chief of staff. Shigemori was also an honourable man – a man of principles. One day, Shigemori learned that his father was secretly planning to overthrow the throne to replace the emperor with a stooge. So he went to see his father to find out what was going on. It was obvious that the old man was preparing for a war. He was in his armour, and men were running around with bows and arrows. The son asked him what the commotion was all about. The father lied and said that they were doing some war games. What should the son do? Stay out of his father”s dirty politics and keep his nose clean? Or stand up against his own father and defeat his army, so that he could prevent an act of high treason? He might have kill his own father. Or join his father, and become a traitor to the country? As the history has it, Shigemori joined his father in the rebellion, was defeated, and died as an enemy of the nation. He is remembered in history as a tragic figure: an honourable man who faced an impossible dilemma.

Let us hope that we don”t have to face such a difficult situation as Jesus faced. Let us hope that our flesh and blood will not present us with a dilemma like the one Shigemori faced. But if we do find ourselves in such a situation, we must remember what Jesus did. He followed God despite his family. But he never stopped loving his family. Do you think that was what your fathers and mothers did at the time of the Church Union? It is good to honour them by believing that our parents followed their conviction. We should follow their examples and pray that love overcomes every conflict.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: LOVING IS GIVING – 4TH WEEK OF JUNE

LOVE IS A GIVING

Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Matthew 10:40-42

June 27, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

In 1992, the NHL Vancouver Canucks held a charity auction to raise funds for a hospice for the terminally ill children. People were donating things so the children could spend the last days of their lives comfortably and happily as much as possible. Six-year-old Jeff Robinson of Kelowna, B.C. heard about the auction. He had a hockey stick with Wayne Gretzky”s autograph on it. Jeff was lucky enough to meet him one day at a hockey practice. After many days thinking about it, Jeff decided to give up the prized hockey stick for the auction. Jeff said, "Those kids are dying. I”m lucky." The hockey stick was sold for one thousand dollars. Some months later, Wayne Gretzky heard about this, and was deeply touched by what Jeff did. He sent Jeff a brand new autographed hockey stick.

We have only one life to live in a limited time. So we regularly have to give up a lot of things we treasure in order to keep what is more important. If you don”t know how to choose one and sacrifice others, your life will be a big mess. Let us learn some important lessons about sacrifice from the story of Abraham and Isaac.

 

Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when they were both beyond the age of baby making. When Sarah was told that she would become pregnant, she though it was a bad joke. "Him? At his age?" "Me? With my hot flashes?" She laughed bitterly. That”s how they came to name their son "Isaac" – "laughter" in Hebrew. The conception of Isaac might have been met by his mother”s disrespectful laughter, but he turned out to be the joy of the parents” life and a source of many a happy laughter. So, they thought that it was the most cruel test of their faith, when they learned that they had to give up Isaac. Since then, many people have also interpreted that this story was about the test of faith. But I don”t agree with this view.

Abraham had believed that God required a sacrifice of his son. But at the crucial moment, God stopped him. Did God change his mind? Or was the whole thing a test of Abraham”s faithfulness, and God did not really mean to let Abraham kill Isaac? I believe that Abraham refused to accept the old custom and found the true God. In order to understand how Abraham changed his view about God and sacrifice, you need to figure out how God speaks to us. Nobody has ever heard God”s voice. God speaks to our hearts and to our minds when we are in prayers. A Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle once said, "Prayer is the most sincere form of thinking." The more we become familiar with the way of God in the Bible, the more clearly we will know the mind of God. That”s how God speaks to us.

When Abraham decided to follow the custom of the day, by killing Isaac at the alter for God, he had truly believed that he was following the God”s wish. Many ancient peoples thought that sacrificing the first born child was the correct way to please the jealous God. In fact, the child sacrifice has always been a common religious practice in many cultures for many years. You still find mummified bodies of children, often young girls, who had been killed to please the supposedly greedy and voracious God in many parts of the world. They are well preserved from the elements, because they are dressed well as offering to gods. Even in the history of Israel, there are stories of children and young women in the Bible sacrificed for the good of a family or a nation in the Bible.

So Abraham was not doing anything unusual for his days. It was normal to believe that by following the widely practised custom they were being faithful to God. It must have been an excruciatingly painful decision for them, because they had waited for their own child for a long time. Abraham walked for three days towards the Mount Moriah with Isaac beside him. He had lots of time to pray and think. It was a difficult struggle. He was challenging the age old belief about the way to serve God. He was a faithful and righteous man. But he loved the child too, more than his own life. "Is loving a child against the will of God?" As he struggled with this difficult question, he began to hear a different voice of God; "Love of a child is good." A split second before he plunged the knife into the child”s body, he was seized by a firm conviction, that God would never demand a life of a child for sacrifice. He had a courage to challenge the old belief, and found a fresh belief in the loving God.

The lesson Abraham learned in this story is very important for us today too. Nobody has the right to require human sacrifice, especially of children. No one owns other human beings. You can not sacrifice what does not belong to you. That is not sacrifice. Sacrifice is to give up what is yours. The human race is still learning this basic lesson. Wars are fought on the assumption that human lives can be sacrificed for the sake of ideas or pieces of real estate. Children are abused and exploited, because some people believe that they are not as valuable as grown-ups, so they are expendable. As the result, education, health, and welfare are the first ones to be cut from the budget affecting mainly children.

However, Abraham found a lamb for sacrifice. He did not ignore the importance of sacrifice. Sacrifice is not only the indispensable part of religious life, but also is an essential life skill. All of us must know what to give up for the sake of what is more important. The people of Israel sacrificed their prized livestock in the temple of God. They gave up portions of their wealth.

When Abraham struggled with the question of what to give up, he found the truly loving God. Jesus Christ sacrificed his own life because he loved us, and showed us the love of God. Sacrifice is to give up what is precious, like Jeff”s hockey stick. By giving up something you treasure, you will know what is most important, which is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: SUNDAY FOR PEOPLE – FIRST WEEK OF JUNE

SUNDAY IS FOR PEOPLE

II cor. 4:5-12, Psalm 139, Mark 2:23-28

June 1, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

I wonder if the Lord”s Day Act is still on the books in Canada. It must, because I never heard that it was repealed. But how things change! Who would worry nowadays about running out of cash or grocery on Sunday. I remember the mad rush on Fridays to the bank, to the grocery store, and to the beer store, so we had enough to survive the weekend. I remember laughing at an ignorant American tourist who was looking for a grocery store to buy beer on Sunday. In the US, I thought I was in a pagan country in a supermarket on Sunday, to stock up the pantry for the week following. I was staying with a family in the States. That was only in 1968. How have we changed! Is it good or bad that we don”t worry too much about Sundays any more? If we can not turn the clock back to the days of strict observance of the Lord”s Day, how then should we observe Sundays in 1997? According to the ideas found in the Gospels about Sabbath, I can say, in short, that Sunday should be different from other days in order to take care of ourselves. In other words, Sunday is for people.

The idea of Sabbath appeared first in the Bible as the day of rest. In the book of Genesis, God created the world in six days. After six working days, feeling good about what he did, God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it as the day of rest. The word "hallow" means to set aside something as special; in other words, to make it "holy". God is telling us that to rest is good for us and also important enough to be hallowed: to set it aside as a special day. Of course, work is also important. After all, he looked at what he achieved in his work, and said to himself, "That”s good!" Work and rest are both good and mutually dependent. Work will be a torture if it is not broken by intermittent periods of rest. Rest will become unbearable and demeaning without meaningful work. Work enable us to live and rest makes us human. The story of creation puts Sabbath in perspective.

Jewish Sabbath is Saturday, and it begins on Friday night. Jesus was crucified on Friday. It did not seem right to the authorities leaving the body of a criminal who committed blasphemy exposed in public on Sabbath, especially during the Passover. So he was buried on Friday night and rose from death on the third day – Sunday. The Christian Church replaced Sabbath with Sunday to commemorate the day of resurrection. Seventh Day Adventist Church, however, insists that we should still follow the Jewish customs and worship on Saturday. I am saying all this to show that many rules and debates about Sabbath have much too much to do with worship services and the rules of the religious institutions, and little to do with what is good for human being. The true spirit of Sabbath can easily be lost in a maze of religious discussions.

If you go to Jerusalem and stay in any hotel in the Western Jewish sector of the city, you will notice that there are two kinds of elevators. One is for Sabbath and the other for the rest of the week. If you take the Sabbath elevator, you don”t have to touch anything. As soon as you get on it, it opens and closes the door, and stops at every floor automatically. Never take the Sabbath elevator on the week days. It will take forever to get to your room, if you are staying on the twentieth floor. Pushing a button is considered to be a work. So you don”t push a button on Sabbath.

The story is not much different from some of the old Christian customs. Anthony Bailey, who is a United Church missionary from Montreal area now working in Jamaica, told me once how he used to spend Sundays. His father, Frank, was a beloved minister of the United Church in Maxville for a long time until he retired. But he was a strict and old fashioned Christian. He did not allow any entertainment on Sundays at home. They went to church twice on Sundays. And the only TV program allowed on Sunday was "Hymn Sing". I know that many of you, who were raised in strict Christian homes, can tell us many similar stories. I am sure that worshipping God together in a church is good for our soul. I am sure that it is good to have rules of behaviours for Sabbath, so that everybody benefits from the day of rest together. But if those rules should overtake the real spirit of the day, that will go against God”s intention. In other words, the rules regarding Sabbath must not interfere with the pursuit of a genuinely wholesome life. That is what Jesus was trying to tell us in the today”s Gospel story.

Jesus defended those disciples who collected some grains from a field on Sabbath, because they were hungry. He healed a physically handicapped person on Sabbath. Jesus recalled a story of King David who had let his soldiers eat the meat which was offered to God on the alter, because there was nothing else to eat. Only the priests were allowed to eat the offerings under the normal circumstances. His point was to say that the laws were made for people, not the other way around. So in principle, on Sabbath you should take a break from work. But if one is starving and there is no food, one must do something to get food even on Sabbath. If you see a person suffering from illness, you must heal the sufferer even on Sabbath. The whole point of Sabbath is to restore life. So some rules become hindrance to life, it is normal to break such rules to restore life.

You may wonder why we need rules to give ourselves holidays. As a person who grew up in a non-Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture, where a regular holiday traditionally came only twice a month, I like the notion of ”at least a day off in a week” as a norm. Without some kind of rules to put the brakes on, it is difficult for human beings to stop working. Because of greed, some people force others to work as long as possible. It is not only in a story like Dickens” Christmas Carol, there are many stories to tell us that human beings have exploited others everywhere. We, also as a race, suffer from workaholism like Scrooge. It is because we are incapable of looking at ourselves. So work becomes our escape. We often don”t know what to do when there is nothing to do. So we keep on being busy to avoid thinking.

The lesson of Sabbath teaches us that we are valued children of God for no other reason but for a fact that we are human beings. Work is good, fruits of our labour are good. But life is much more than work and rewards of work. When we take a break, we will find more about ourselves which we have not known before. We who come to church believe that by attending the church God will help us find important things about our life, and help us put our daily work into perspective. When I was working in Africa, one of the many lessons I learned about our faith is from the way the Africans looked at each other. They value human being regardless of income or position. No one looks down on a person who has no job, nor was there any sense of shame on the part of a jobless person. An old person who has no education, no money, no job, nor position in society, is revered because he or she is old thus assumed wise.

I am sure you heard me telling you this story before. But I love this story. So allow me to conclude by telling it to you again. One day, I was busy going places on my Land Rover in the mountains of Lesotho. I ran into an old man sitting by the road looking tired. In fact, he looked so weak that he looked sickly. I offered him a ride. He declined the offer and said, "I walked all day and came a long way – five miles. I am sitting here waiting for my spirit to catch up with me." Sunday is for people. It is the day set aside by God to help us recover a sense of what we are. Enjoy it.

A: A HEALTHY DOES NOT NEED A DOCTOR – 2ND WEEK OF JUNE

A HEALTHY PERSON DOES NOT NEED A DOCTOR

Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33 #5, Matthew 9:9-13

June 9, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

Matthew was a tax collector, and knew that nobody liked him. Not only people hated tax collectors, which we still do today, they also excluded them from community religious observances, because they were seen as an unclean class. But Jesus not only became Matthew”s friend for a dinner, but also made him a disciple. No wonder the righteous people were scandalized.

In many ways, I do understand why tax collectors had such a bad reputation. Palestine was under the Roman occupation at the time. The last Jewish rebellion against Roman Empire was brutally crushed in the first century B.C. To add insult to injury, the administration of tax revenue was given to some selected Jewish persons on a commission basis. In other words, tax collection was privatized. The more money tax collectors collected, the richer they got. The Romans adopted an universal dictum of any conqueror; "Divide and rule." And they were very successful. People hated tax collectors more than the Roman soldiers.

The tax collectors invented many methods to impose taxes. They were a enterprising lot. Many of them made fortunes but became corrupt, took bribes, pounced on the vulnerable people who were often poor and weak. They became not only morally corrupt, but also because of their moral bankruptcy, were branded as religiously unclean. Priests and Pharisees refused to let them participate in community religious events. As a class, they were not only traitors working for the enemy but also became excommunicated, so-to-speak. They became rich but had no friends.

I could understand why the category of tax collectors was synonymous with the one for sinners. But when a whole class of people becomes an unacceptable category, the exceptions to the rule can be victims. What happened to tax collectors who were not necessarily bad people, but who were simply doing an unpleasant job to earn a living? There is some evidence in the Bible to indicate that there were some less corrupt ones who would have loved to redeem themselves and to be accepted by society. Matthew was one of those people. This is why Matthew had no hesitation to follow Jesus, leaving his job and money behind when he was invited to do so. He must have been troubled by what he had to do in his job. Even though Matthew could have been less corrupt than many of his colleagues, it would be impossible to totally exonerate him as an innocent party. Tax collectors as a group were a corrupt class, and Matthew was one of them. He must have had problems of conscience about his job, but did not have courage to quit. We can sympathize with him. It is not easy to quit a job that pays well for any reason. But the encounter with Jesus gave him impetus to get out of a profitable but questionable occupation.

From time to time, we run into a situation where we find ourselves in a bad company but do not have courage to get out. It is a big problem for many of us. But as soon as we acknowledge that we share collective guilt, we are on the way to redemption. Jesus understood the pang of conscience of some tax collectors like Matthew. And when you can feel the pain, Jesus, like a doctor, can help you. But if you don”t feel it, no one can help you. This is why it is so important to admit that there is a problem and to recognize that you are in need of help.

Here was the problem of the righteous people like Pharisees. They did not acknowledge that there was any problem in their lives. They either denied it or did not see it. They were determined to be God fearing and righteous people. In order to achieve their goals, they made for themselves a set of rules and followed them faithfully. Unfortunately, however, in the process of becoming righteous people they forgot to be good people. They forgot to be loving and kind. While they were on the way to be righteous, they became judgmental and lost the core of being Godly, which is being merciful. They became law-abiding but lost their heart. They forgot that laws were instruments of justice and love. Laws that do not achieve justice are empty shells and burden to society. The worst problem, however, for the Pharisees was the fact that many of them did not see any problem in obeying laws faithfully without being compassionate.

Paul described this state of empty piety in his letter to Corinthians, "If I have all knowledge of God”s words, ability to preach wonderful sermons, faith to move mountains, charity to give everything including life itself, but if I don”t have love, I am nothing." What is most important is what is inside of ourselves. If we do not have kindness and mercy in our hearts, any visible signs of righteousness can be an empty shell and even inhuman. We can easily be hypocrites. The tragedy of the righteous Pharisees was that in their eagerness to be acceptable to God, they became legalistic, heartless and judgmental people. Their worst problem, however, was that they did not think there was anything wrong with them. They thought that they were perfectly acceptable to God because they knew that they obeyed the laws to the last iota.

Their ignorance of how they were wanting was the worst illness, worse than that of sins acknowledged and regretted. People who know the pain of guilt have a much better chance of being made whole. If you do not admit that you have a problem, no one can help you. Socrates in the ancient Greece said that the best knowledge was the knowledge of oneself. "Know thyself." , he said. However, he said that the most valuable knowledge is the knowledge of one”s ignorance. When you know that you do not know, you have a whole unknown world open before your eyes. If you think that you know everything you need to know, the world is closed. And you slam the door shut yourself. No one can help you.

This is why Jesus thought that the sinners, who knew that there was something wrong with them, had far better chance of being saved than the righteous people who believed that they needed no help or no lesson to learn. He said, "A healthy person does not need a doctor." The irony of the context was a sick person who did not believe that they were ill had absolutely no chance of getting to the doctor, because they closed the door by themselves. Thank God for occasional pain. Pain itself is not a good thing. Don”t look for it. But it is a signal. Through pain, God tells you that you need to seek help, to change and to grow.

 

 

A: AMAZING GRACE – 3RD WEEK OF JUNE

AMAZING GRACE – BLOOD INTO BLESSING

Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 33, Luke 8:43-48

June 6, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

The author of the much loved hymn "Amazing Grace", John Newton, had been born blind. Despite his handicap, with sheer determination he became a successful and wealthy businessman. He traded in African slaves. To him, African people were a mere commodity, and cargo to be thrown overboard when the ship was at peril in a storm. Then, "Amazing Grace" burst into his life, and he was given the gift of sight. One day, he looked into the eyes of one of his slave cargo and saw a human being, a child of God. Years later, he wrote "I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see."

If you think that the cure of John Newton”s blindness was a miracle, you are completely missing the point. The real miracle was that he gained spiritual eye-sight. He could now understand that there was a fellow human being in a person who had been a mere commodity. Likewise, the miraculous healing of a woman who had suffered twelve years of haemorrhage was not so much about the cessation of bleeding, but it was about the recovery of her membership in humanity. These days, science can sometimes give sight to the blind and stop a haemorrhage, but it is only the Holy Spirit that makes a human a child of God.

So the woman in the Gospel story was in double jeopardy. She had a physical problem and trouble with the society. She has bled for twelve years. The society made her feel even more rotten by labelling her "unclean" and "untouchable." Doctors did not take her seriously, because she was nobody in the society – she was an untouchable. How can any doctor examine a person without touching? It must have made her feel so frustrated and angry. Ancient societies often had a double standard about blood. They often considered natural flow of blood like a women”s monthly cycle, or natural flow of any kind of body fluid, disgusting and unacceptable, thus unclean. Coming into contact with it was a taboo. A taboo did not necessarily cause medical problems. It was more related to religion. In the meanwhile, men”s experiences of blood have often been related to death. They considered blood related to deaths and heroic acts of sacrifice noble, yet nevertheless life-denying. So they thought that the shedding of blood without an outward sign of wound must have been the indication that below the surface the devil was at work. For men, there was no healthy blood. Blood always had to do with either death or evil.

On the other hand, women have known blood to be life-giving – a sign of God”s blessing. Their regular monthly flow indicates that every month their bodies are prepared to nourish life. But men”s fear of blood made the woman having her period classified as unclean and untouchable. A woman who gave birth was also untouchable because of blood of birthing. She was isolated for a month, or even for years in some cultures until the baby was weaned. The woman had no health problems, but she was a taboo during her period. No one could touch her, and everything she touched was considered to be unclean. So imagine how this haemorrhaging woman in the Gospel was treated. She had bled for twelve years. Her bleeding problem could have been a medical problem. But for religious reasons she had to be made an outcast, unclean and untouchable.

When she sought a cure of her haemorrhage and touched the hem of Jesus” outer garment, she was really looking for wholeness. As a sufferer of recurrent headache, I understand her very well. When migraine persists for a period of time, you begin to feel guilty, because you are not doing anything and wasting the space you occupy. Often this lack of self-confidence becomes more of a problem than what actually ails you. Behind your search for a cure, you are really looking for acceptance. Acceptance makes you feel whole. Wholeness is genuine "healing", which is the same word as "salvation" in the Bible. When you feel healed and wholeness is gained, you are at peace with yourself; then you feel truly healthy. So, she touched Jesus” clothes. Touching was an important feature in many healing miracles of Jesus. By touching the handicapped and the sick, Jesus declared, "They are not untouchable. These people are the children of God, as lovable and precious as you all are." Touch conveyed the message of acceptance and affirmation.

In this case, however, it was the seeker of healing who touched Jesus. There are many stories of people who demanded justice and salvation in the Bible, and this is one of them. The woman in this story knew deep inside that her problem was merely physical and that she committed no offence in the eyes of God. But she did not want to shock people by an act of open defiance. So, she extended her hand to touch as a quiet act of petition, and she felt affirmed, and was healed. Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith made you whole." She was now a beloved and precious daughter. In the Bible, the expression "daughter" always suggests a special loving relationship. She was now a daughter of God. She was healed, she was made whole.

David Lochhead is still on life support, totally paralyzed except his eyes. Marta reported to friends on the internet on May 29, "Today David gave me a beautiful gift. With his eyes he told me that he wanted to communicate something. We took out a board with the alphabet. He dictated, "I love you." You can imagine my reaction! If David loves, he will be OK……We are open to the will of God. Thank you for your support. Marta." Here are a couple of persons, like the woman who had bled for twelve years, healed and made whole by love and grace of God despite a seemingly hopeless situation.

The story of John Newton, the author of "Amazing Grace", the story of the woman with the haemorrhage, and Marts”s message about David Lochhead, all touch us that God”s grace is available to each of us, if only we are open to it. By that grace we are healed and restored to our rightful place as daughters and sons in the family of God. Thanks be to God.

B: TO MAKE A DECISION IN A COMPLICATED WORLD – SECOND SUNDAY OF AUGUST

A DIFFICULT CHOICE

2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; PSALM 130; EPHESIANS 4:25

August 13, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

Once I had to fire a person who was a friend of mine. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. She was a creative person in the wrong job. After a thorough review of her performance, the committee recommended that I dismiss her. She has now been in the right job for eight years in the church. She is doing excellent work, and she is most happy. But of course, at the time of her dismissal, she felt I had betrayed her as a friend. To dismiss her was a most difficult decision. At the time, I was not sure at all whether I was doing the right thing or not.

Life would be a lot easier, if everything was clearly marked as right and wrong, good and bad, black and white, big and small. Too many situations fall in grey areas. Often, our only response can be, "It all depends." The choice King David had to make about his rebellious son Absalom was such a difficult one. A good looking and popular son rebelled against him and his kingdom. King David even had to flee for his life on barefoot in the dark of the night. Today”s Psalm was said to have been written by David as he remembered the night when he climbed a mountain in tears to escape his son Absalom, who was after his life. He loved his son, but his son was destroying his kingdom. His most trusted friends were urging King David to crush his son”s rebellion. He prayed, using gut wrenching words, "From the depth of my despair I call to you, Lord. Hear my cry to you, Lord, listen to my call for help!" These are the words of a man who didn”t know what to do.

David didn”t know what to think. He was in despair not because he was facing his own death at the hands of his own son. He was in despair because of the difficult choice he had to make between his son”s life and the welfare of his people. If he had to save his people from massive deaths and destruction, he had to kill his own son. But he could not bare the thought of losing yet another son – he had already lost two sons under wretched circumstances. He despaired because of his love for his son. So he made the wrong decision. He asked his generals to crush the rebellion, but to keep his son alive. The death of Absalom was too difficult a thing to choose. The generals, however, ignored the king”s order, in order to save the kingdom from further turmoil.

However, the story of David and Absalom gets more complicated if you read the whole story from Chapter 13. Before the relationship between Absalom and David came to a tragic climax, there were a series of sordid incidents; incest between siblings, a murder of a brother by another, etc. The whole story of Absalom and David is so juicy that any afternoon TV soap opera looks like an innocent children”s program in comparison. There was so much history between the father and the son that one comes to understand how difficult it must have been for King David to make the right decision.

What then is the point of this story? Why did the writer of the Book of Samuel think that this particular story was worth recording for posterity? What lesson did he want to give us? One of them lessons I see in the story is this: it is telling us that life is so rich that no simple answer can cover all the situations of life. We do ourselves a grave injustice, if we look for a clear cut and simple answer all the time, because life is much more complex. Life is more complicated and wonderful than we can ever imagine. Because God has created such a rich world for us, we need patience to live with ambiguity and to appreciate it. It is love that makes us patient to truly enjoy God”s lavish world.

Once I visited the cleanest country I had ever been to, and met the most honest people I had ever seen. Any trash left on the street was picked up by someone instantly. People were so honest that even a pencil left in a hotel room by accident was delivered to you two days later, after you travelled hundreds of miles. Everything was clearly understood as right or wrong, and everybody knew it. Any offence against this strict code of ethics was dealt with by harsh and instant justice, and often by execution. It was the Communist China in 1978, when it was under its most oppressive regime. I also remember breathing a sign of relief when I got on the plane to leave China.

If we look into the depth of our minds, we don”t really want a clear and instant judgements. We live in a rich and complicated world for that. We need the kind of loving patience that lets us take time to explore many options, and gives us a second chance. We need understanding even when we make a wrong decision. I heard a medical doctor speaking about the biggest problem most physicians were facing today. "The doctor has to make an instant diagnosis and prescribe remedies immediately. But what people really need is your time and the touch of your hand," he said. Then he went on to speak about his own experience as a patient in an emergency room; he was in agony. A friend of his looked in, who was a prominent physician himself. He could have prescribed a remedy right away. It was an easy job. But he didn”t do anything of the kind. He was a friend. So he held the first doctor”s hand, looking very concerned and stayed with him some time. The first doctor said to the interviewer, "I felt a whole lot better by the time he left the room. This experience showed me what was fundamentally wrong with the practice of medicine today."

Jesus was confronted by a crowd who brought a woman accused of adultery. They demanded an instant judgement of her case. Jesus didn”t speak for a long time. He just sat silently in front of the woman and doodled on the ground with a stick. When he finally spoke, he said, "The one who has never committed sin should throw the first stone." Silence followed again. People left one by one leaving Jesus and the accused woman alone. Jesus said, "I will not punish you either. Go. Don”t make the same mistake again." Jesus showed his love for people by not passing judgement quickly. David acted for the love of his son and ignored the welfare of thousands of people, after long hours of despair and indecision. Was he wrong? We don”t know. I believe that this is one of those murky questions on which we would need to spend a long time in prayer in order to find an answer. Let us not be quick to condemn others. God is not quick to judge, but patiently waits for us to turn to him and pray, "From the depth of my despair, I cry to you." God”s patience means that we don”t always need to be right or know the answer immediately. Whatever decisions face us, God will not desert us. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

C: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, NOT WHAT WE DO.

WHAT ARE WHAT WE ARE, NOT SO MUCH WHAT WE DO.

ISAIAH 1, 10-20, PSALM 50, LUKE 12:32-40

AUGUST 9, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

When his close friend and a co-worker Howie Mills died suddenly at the age of fifty-three, the Very Reverend Sang Chul Lee, the former Moderator of the United Church, pointed his finger at heaven said, "This is not right. You are wrong this time." This surprised me, because I had never expected Sang Chul to complain to God. He was a faithful and wise servant of God and impressed me as a person who would be willing to undertake any difficult task for God and for the church.

For me, God was the ultimate authority. I did not believe that one could complain to God. It was a kind of things that a person of no faith would do. But the Prophet Isaiah surprised me in the same way. In the verse 18, God was proposing to people, "Let us argue this out." In the beginning of the chapter, God had been speaking about all the wrong things people were doing. And yet after all that diatribe he suggested, "Let”s sit down and talk about this." He didn”t sound like someone who lays down the law and punishes whoever would not obey him. In this sentence, God is ready to negotiate with you, like a lawyer proposing immunity from prosecution.

Isaiah is reminding us that our relationship with God is a covenant – a contract between partners. The God we believe in, according to the Bible, is the God who respects us and invites us into a covenant with him. This is one important expression of God”s love for us. In a truly loving relationship, one party does not exercise arbitrary power over another. It is a give-and-take. Friendship, marriage, or parenthood can be a true relationship when there is a mutual respect for each other. Our God is the God who became a human being, by giving up his godly power, to live among us, suffered like us, and died like us. He became an equal partner. We are who we are in a relationship to someone, especially to God. That is the basis of our most fundamental identity.

We are ”human beings”, not ”human doings”. We must know what we are simply as "beings" before we do anything. However, many of us, especially men, don”t know who we are except through what we do for living. When we are asked to introduce ourselves, we usually mention our jobs after our names. This is why for many years women, who stayed home to look after children and homes were treated like nobodies, even though they had much heavier work load than many paid jobs. We must know who we are before whatever we do. Knowing who we are is knowing the meaning of life. Doing things without knowing who we are is like driving a car not knowing where we are going.

For many years, parents have expressed their hopes and aspirations for their children in the acts of naming them. Unfortunately, today we do not take the meaning of the names seriously as much as our ancestors used to. Names used to give more profound identifications to persons. Abraham in Hebrew means ”Father of Nation”, for example. Many cultures still maintain that tradition to take seriously the meaning of a child”s name. In Lesotho in Africa where I worked for some years, naming a child is a serious business. The names are always parents” prayers for the children. "Mpho – gift" for a girl and "Thabo – joy" for a boy, expressing the parents” gratitude for the gift of a child. Some children have terrible names like "Moiketsi – manure" and "Tsietsi – trouble". The idea to give such terrible names is to lure an unwanted attention of the devil away from the special child, like a first born. In Hebrew tradition, when one reached adulthood, another name was added to express one”s own hopes and aspirations. That was how Jacob later in his life became Israël meaning "God”s chosen one".

So the names in the Bible were always deeply representative of who people were. One day on a mountain, Moses wanted to know how he could introduce God to people. So he asked God his name. But God answered, "I am what I am". A name was not just an identification mark. It had to describe the whole being. This is why "I am what I am" was the only name God could give at that moment. God was trying to tell Moses that the true knowledge of God would come only through relationship with him. God did not allow a simplistic description of himself "in a nutshell." We enter into a relationship in trust in a covenant, then our knowledge of God grows as we interact with him in our daily life. It should be like that in our relationship with another human being, too.

I believe that one of the serious problems we have today is a crisis of identity. We are not quite sure who we are. If we have nothing to do, we feel worthless – we feel like nobody. When you become unemployed your self-esteem plummets and you feel you are nobody, because what you do for money is often the only way you know who you are. But being busy doing a lot of things does not solve the problem, because you don”t know who you are, therefore you don”t know why you are doing all this. It is time we claim our identities in relationships – as someone”s beloved, not just a series of numbers on a plastic card. Your children know who you are oblivious of what you do for living, because you are their parent first and foremost, and you are loved by them.

Most importantly, we are what we are in relationship with God; we are his beloved. God treats us as his equals as covenant partners, and even invites us to argue issues with him. Let us spend more time thinking about who we are. We already spend too much time worrying about what we do. Too many things to do drive us crazy and often waste our life. But when we know who we are in relationships, we will know what to do without wasting our life away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: A WISE FOOL – THIRD SUNDAY OF AUGUST

TO BE A FOOL IN ORDER TO BE WISE

1 Kings 2 & 3, Psalm 111, 1 Cor 3:18-23

August 20, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

Many family owned businesses fall apart when the founders pass on and the kids take over. The Eaton”s department store chain is a good example. Who would have imagined that the Eaton”s, a Canadian icon, would go bankrupt after Timothy Eaton”s kids took over. The story of King Solomon teaches us about the limitation of a person, who may be very gifted and wise and is successful.

King Solomon was the most successful king of all times, not only in the history of the Hebrew nation but also in the stories of kings everywhere. Under his reign, Israel became a powerful country extending its borders from the present day Israel to Jordan, to Lebanon and to Syria, and even to Egypt. The country became very wealthy. Solomon was successful economically, militarily, politically. He was said to have married hundreds of wives and had an equal numbers of concubines, which was a sign of a successful man in those days. But most importantly, he was known for his wisdom. As you have heard from today”s lesson, when he became a king, he first asked God for wisdom and nothing else. For this, God was very pleased. He was not only a successful king, but he was also a wise king, as the episode in today”s lesson shows.

In fact, many of "Wisdom Literature" in the Bible are said to have been written by King Solomon. They are the Ecclesiastes, the Proverbs, the Song of Songs, and some Psalms. My favourite is from the Ecclesiastes; "For everything, there is a season. A time for every matter under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to love and a time to hate. Etc." Some of them are humorous. For example in Proverbs he says, "If you are wise, you will keep your mouth shut." Or, "To live with someone who talks all the time is worse than living in hell." Some are full of humanity. The Song of Songs is the loveliest of all love songs. The fact that such a love song is in the Bible is an affirmation of human sexuality.

However, what is most interesting is the fact that King Solomon himself ended up very frustrated after all those achievements and successes – he was most sceptical about his achievements. Furthermore, just like Timothy Eaton, he did not succeed in creating an enduring kingdom: in fact his kingdom crumbled immediately after he died, and split up into two countries causing the eventual demise of the Jewish nation. Because he was extremely wise, he was able to realize how limited human enterprises were. The Ecclesiastes, which I believe to be the best writings of King Solomon, is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. In it, he expressed his disappointments in life. In chapter one, he said, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. – It is useless, useless. Life is useless, all is useless. You spend your life working hard, labouring, and what do you have to show for it? Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. What”s the use?" Why did such a successful man, like Solomon, end up so disappointed.

A Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy made the same point in a story. There was a man who was given all the land he wanted if he could go around it on foot in a day. So, one day at dawn, he started to run. At one point, of course, he could not go on any more because he was absolutely exhausted. But with determination he staggered on. As the Sun was setting in the West, he was crawling but still trying to grab more land. He did make it back to the place where he started out when the Sun disappeared. But he was completely exhausted, in fact he died a moment after the Sunset. At the end, all the land he acquired for free was a piece of land with a size of 3 by 6 feet, where a hole was dug to bury his body. Now then, the question is: are Tolstoy and Solomon saying that all we do in this life is in vain therefore useless, because we die anyway? Is what we do is so useless that we should do nothing?

Some people believe that. They think that the best way is to get away from the world and spend the rest of your life in meditation. I firmly reject this view. I don”t think that King Solomon was saying that. For one thing, he tried his darnest to be a good king, for people and for the country. And he was a good king and a wise one, too. His country benefitted from his wisdom and achievements. This is why he is fondly remembered even today. But because he tried his best, he got to know that human endeavour alone had limitations. He found that his achievements fell far short of the goal. In fact without God, he found them useless. He felt the need of something more, to make life worthwhile. Solomon in the Ecclesiastes, said at the end, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth.", as though to say, "whatever you do, you do it with God in mind." He also said, "The ultimate way to become wise is to honour God."

Albert Einstein, who was considered to be the best scientist of the 20th Century. He said, "Science without religion is blind and dangerous. Religion without science is crazy." Science is one of the most important human enterprises. And the best scientist we have ever known in the last century believed that human endeavour was dangerous without God. And only lazy people, who don”t believe in science turn their religions into superstitions.

Of course, the first article of faith in the Christian teaching is "God is love." Therefore to honour God is to love. This is why Paul in his letter to the Corinthians said, "You may have to be a fool in the eyes of humans in order to be wise in the eyes of God." He said it because the way of love may seem foolish if you don”t know God. If you don”t believe that ultimately the wisdom of God is love, you will have no choice but to see Jesus Christ as the most foolish person ever lived on the earth. It is because he died for others for love. But for those who believe in the love of God, Christ showed us the true way – indeed the way of wisdom of God. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: FORGIVE US AS WE FORGIVE THEM – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

FORGIVE US, AS WE FORGIVE THEM

2 Samuel 11 & 12, Psalm 51, Ephesians 4:1-16

August 6, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

One day, a colleague of mine known for her sharp tongue asked me, "Well Tad, what did you do today to justify your existence?" I didn”t know she was teasing me, so I took her question seriously. I could not think of a single achievement that could justify my existence. It was a very humiliating question. Ralph Milton admits that he is one of those men who don”t know how to stop working. He thinks most of his health problems come from the fact that he is a workaholic. He is always overworked and tired, offering his body as a breeding ground for all bacteria and viruses. He feels he has to be working all the time because of guilt. He feels guilty when he is not working. He says; you feel guilty when you have past which has not been dealt with properly, so you don”t feel you are OK as you are. You have to be working all the time to redeem yourself and earn your salvation. But in the Gospel, we believe that we can not earn salvation. We believe that we will be forgiven by the grace of God if we simply admit our guilt. We all suffer from guilt. We have to realize that we can not be absolved from our past by ourselves by working our butts off. We all need forgiveness to go on with life. Today”s story of David and Prophet Nathan teaches us important lessons about forgiveness.

A king orders the death of his brave and loyal soldier in order to go to bed with his wife. That was how King David married Bathsheba. What a disgusting story! David”s behaviour was immoral. Pure and simple. How could he be so horrible? Yet David remained a God”s most favoured king in the Bible. The child from this unholy union grew up to be King Solomon, who was the most successful king in the entire history of Jewish people. What is going on?

We will not understand the point of this story fully until we realize that David”s behaviour was no different from other kings. You don”t have to read the stories of Henry VIII to find out that the kings did the same kind of things, or even worse things, all over the world throughout the ages. Sleeping with the bride of his lackey the night before the wedding day, for example, was an accepted practice for the lord of the land even as late as the nineteenth century. It was called "l droit du seigneur" – the right of the lord.

The point of the story of David and Bathsheba is not to highlight David”s sin. David”s sex life was no better nor worse than other kings. The point of this story is to tell us that everybody sins and even a king is in need of forgiveness like everybody else. It says that nobody, not even the king, can get on with life until one”s guilt is taken cared of. King David was a great king because he admitted his guilt, and not because he was a morally better human being. I am not saying that David did nothing wrong. He was guilty for sure. But I am saying that everybody without exception makes mistakes and has a past history that causes guilt feeling. One must acknowledge that. It is not an easy thing to acknowledge that. But it is a first step towards forgiveness. David was a sinful man like everybody else. But he was more honourable in his honesty than many people. Nobody wants to admit one”s fault. This is why so many of us are busy working too hard or trying hard to have fun to escape from the deep menacing feeling that somehow we are not OK. When someone touches that sensitive spot, you would get angry and hate such a meddler. If you were a king, you would probably kill such a person. Prophet Nathan had a superb skill to tell King David that he did wrong without making him angry. The story of a rich man and a poor man”s sheep Nathan used sounded so much like a day-to-day kind of court case King David would have heard in his court. Nathan had to be careful even though as a prophet he was paid to tell the truth. He could have lost his head. John the Baptist was virtually decapitated, by telling the truth about King Herod”s personal life.

But the most important point of this story is that the king was no different from other people before God, and David was big enough to admit that he needed forgiveness. Everybody makes mistakes and is in need of forgiveness including the king. God does not demand perfection, but accepts those who honestly admit guilt and forgive them. David was a good leader, not because he was pure and blameless, but because he was honest to admit his faults and accepted his guilt. He accepted equality of all people before God in their sinfulness. Greatness of King David was that he acknowledged himself to be just another miserable guilty man in need of God”s mercy. This was how he could get on with his life and move onto do greater things for the nation, trusting in God”s forgiveness and mercy.

In our trip to Japan last month, a woman I knew well told me about her son”s recent divorce. Muriel and I were very sorry to hear that, because we cared about the young couple and a baby girl very much. She said she was devastated in the beginning. She was angry with her son. But she blamed herself more than anybody for bringing him up to be such a man of many faults, who could not make his marriage work. Not being able to see her grand daughter as often as she used to added injury to her anger. But eventually love towards her son and the grand daughter proved to be stronger than pride. Love did not allow her to dwell in a blaming game too long. She loved her son very much and had to forgive and accept him. When she could forgive her son, she felt that she was also forgiven. She felt forgiveness as she forgave her son. When she experienced forgiveness, strangely grudges she used to hold against some people had also disappeared. Experience of forgiveness changed her views of people. "It”s wonderful. The world is a better place to live," she told me.

It is indeed wonderful. We are forgiven people. We are not ashamed nor afraid of our past any more, because God has forgiven us and took care of our past. We can accept ourselves as we are. Christianity is not a religion of perfect people who never do anything wrong. It is a religion for forgiven sinners. A theologian once said, "Good News of Jesus Christ is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find food." Thank be to God.

 

 

 

C: YOU FOOL, YOU WILL DIE TONIGHT! – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

YOU FOOL! TONIGHT, YOUR LIFE WILL BE TAKEN.

Luke 12:13-21

August 2, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

There was a man absolutely dedicated to fitness. He religiously ran, swam, lifted weights, ate high fibre foods, and avoided cholesterol. He died of a heart attack anyway. When he got to heaven, he was bitter and asked God, "Why?" But God said to him, "I didn”t know you were interested in me. You had never asked ”what for”, whatever you were doing." Jesus spoke about a man with a similar problem in today”s Gospel.

A wealthy farmer had a good year and harvested a big crop. He built a big new barn to store up all his newly acquired fortune. He was very happy. He said to himself, "I made it! I made it! I”m going to have a big party." And God said to him, "You fool! What if I call you home tonight. What can you show for yourself about your life? You have never asked ”what for” you were working so hard."

Both men were doing normal things in their lives. They were good men actually. But their lives were not complete, because they lived without God. They never asked what was the meaning of their hard work. Both stories are telling us that our life is not complete until we have a relationship with God and know the meaning of our life. Without God, all the hard won affluence and physical well being are wasted, because they are good only in this life and useless beyond it. Most people know that. Even though many traditional religions seem to be on the decline, survey after survey show that most of the people believe in God today. Many books on spirituality are selling very well, and teachers of meditation are very popular. In fact, the magazine "The Economist" reports that this last week the book on top of the best seller list both in Britain and North America was the one about spirituality by Richard Carlson, not about ”how to make money”. But most people seem to think that they will be able to fulfil their spiritual needs when the time comes, like filing the income tax return before April 30th. The only problem is that the relationship with God can not be manufactured by working overnight on a piece of paper with a calculator and a pencil. Besides, nobody knows when the deadline is. It may be forty years from now or it may be tonight. When you desperately need to speak to God, you don”t know how to speak to God if you are not used to praying.

Our relationship with God, like any other relationships, grows with frequent interaction. Relationship must be like a familiar road that leads to home. You walk that road so many times that you can get to your door even at night in pitch darkness. In fact, all relationships, be it with your spouse, with your child or with your parent, must be like a familiar passage. If it is not, you don”t know how to find it when you need it. In fact, true love may begin sometimes with excitement or with tender moments, but it can sustain you and last only when it has become an ordinary normal condition like breathing in and breathing out of air.

I have a cousin, who goes to church only when I am preaching at the church accessible to him. By my count, that means he”s been only six times in the last forty years, because we have always lived tens of thousands of miles apart. He came to visit me in Vancouver, and to Lesotho in Africa. Her came to hear me every time I visited Japan; but that”s only a few times. I am glad that he appreciates my sermons so much. But he must realize that my thoughts are about God, and God appears in many different forms. Hearing only my sermons and trying to figure out what God is all about is like trying to comprehend an elephant by hearing only about its tail while completely ignoring all other parts. When you are in close relationship with a person, you know that person in many different moods and forms, morning, day, and night. True knowledge of a person comes only through frequent interaction and a steady relationship. But when it comes, you know and love that person in any form or shape, even in an ugliest of mood and under the most difficult conditions.

God appears in many different forms and ways. The God described by Hosea is God of love. The God of Hosea is so loving that he is almost pathetic, like the love of a husband who goes after an unfaithful wife looking for her even in a brothel. The God of Abraham, on the other hand, is a demanding God. God tested Abraham”s faith to see if Abraham would give up his only son for him. God loves, punishes, demands, teaches, judges, heals and feeds. God is so enormous and appears in so many different ways that he is almost impossible to know. The only way to know him is to live with him daily and to experience him in action. Jesus said, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you don”t know where it comes from and where it goes."

When you ask a very young child, who has just begun to speak, who her parent is, you probably won”t get any factual information like the name and age of the parent. But they know who Mom or Dad is, more surely than any other person does. Their knowledge of the parent is through experience and beyond words. A parent is the person who stays with the child all the time, knows every need, and takes care of the child. Our knowledge of God is like that. When we acknowledge God in action in our daily life, feel grateful every moment and every day, we become accustomed to God”s presence. That”s how we come into relationship with God. In exactly the same way as a child knows his father or mother, we will know God, maybe not completely but abundantly.

 

 

 

A : YOU DON”T GO ANYWHERE, IF YOU PLAY IT SAFE. – SECOND SUN DAY OF AUGUST

LETTING GO OF OUR CRUTCH

MATTHEW 14 : 22 – 33, MARK 6 : 45 – 52

AUGUST 11, 1996, BY TAD MITSUI

Was it Winston Churchill who once said, "All we have to fear is fear itself"? Fear is, in most cases, the fear of the unknown. Once you know what it is that you are afraid of, it often turns out to be a simple thing. This is why it is important to learn to get out of a familiar place and to experience new things. You may find that there is nothing to be afraid of. Because we are often hesitant to let go of familiar things, we are gripped by fear of things that we don”t know too much about and become paralysed. The Gospel writer gave us a lesson about the power of faith in the face of fear by telling the story of Jesus walking on water.

Most of the people who read this story usually pay a lot of attention to a supernatural aspect of the story. "How could Jesus walk on water?" And often a miracle such as this is referred to as proof that Jesus Christ was the son of God. So if I may, I want to digress a little here and deal with the question of miracles.

To me, the question about whether miracles really happened or not is not important. I don”t object if some people see it as a proof that Jesus is the son of God. But to me, it isn”t the proof. Jesus was the saviour and the Lord, because of the way he loved us and not because he performed miracles. Besides miracles are rather common place in ancient literatures. If you read old stories from different cultures, you will know that miracle stories were a literary style many ancient people adopted. Even in the Bible there were many accounts of miracles performed by various people. There are even accounts of a contest between an Egyptian and Moses as to who performed better and more impressive miracles. And there are a few other similar stories in the Old Testament. They wrote those miracle stories to get some points across. They were not all that concerned about the factual details.

In recent years, we began to trust the scientific method and adopted scientific way of seeing things. In doing so, we have developed a rather unfortunate tendency to judge nature of truth scientifically at the expense of other human aspects. And if a story of an event is not a historical fact, we dismiss it as something as not true. That is very unfortunate. By doing so, we become unable to understand many human qualities that are important and real to us. There are many truly human experiences that can be expressed only in metaphors and mythical language. A man praises his wife he has been married to for sixty years, and says "She is as beautiful as the woman I dated sixty years ago." It is very touching. Surely nobody would dismiss such a comment as only silly words from an old man. We understand what he means. But as long as we use only shallow standards of factuality, objectivity, and visibility, we have become disabled human beings. We are no longer able to keep in touch with our deepest feelings and understand those of others. Miracle stories help us to recover one of our most important human faculties. We must recover our ability to communicate in depth about human realities through mythical language.

So let”s not worry about whether you can walk on water or not. That is not the point of the story. The points of today”s Gospel are about fear, letting go, and salvation from fear. Let me make three points:

1. Danger is often about perceptions. If you know what you are dealing with and what you are doing about it, often there is no danger. Wind and waves, especially on a small lake like the Galilee, are not dangerous. They become dangerous when we are afraid of them. The disciples who were left to their own devices, because Jesus wanted to be alone, were feeling left out and became afraid of wind and waves. Even when they saw Jesus approaching them, he became a cause of their fear. They thought it was a ghost.

Ignorance is often a cause of fear. We used to be afraid of many diseases, for example. The most of them are no longer causes of fear because we know what they are now. I noticed that in the remote villages of Africa where people were not exposed to modern western medicine, even a slight headache was a reason for a great concern. They were more sick than they should be, because they did not know what troubled them. In the mean time, they did not make as much fuss as we do about visible external injuries. It was kind of strange for me to notice that so long as they could see blood, they worried less than when they had internal pain. It is a case of fear of unknown.

Death and fear of death is another example. Death is as natural as life itself. But we fear death, because we don”t know what it is and what lies beyond. Knowledge can eliminate some fear. But we can not know everything. This is why faith and trust play a crucial role in allowing us to be free of fear and go forward. The more you trust someone who gives you assurance, the less you fear to go into a new passage of your life. Even death no longer is a cause of crippling fear, if we know what it is and where we will go after that.

2. Help does come when you are gripped with fear and can not cope, just like Jesus who came to the disciples on the lake. But the question is again whether we trust the helper and take the help or let it pass by because of distrust. Help does not fall into your lap when you just sit and do nothing. When the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, they thought that they were seeing a ghost. But when he spoke to them, "Do not be afraid. It is me." They were not afraid any longer. Help does come often in the most unexpected way. Walking on the water may sound incredible. But likewise, many difficult situations are resolved in some unexpected ways. The question is whether we trust the helper or not. That is the most important question. You have to take initiative to seize the opportunity. It does not impose itself on you. Mark”s Gospel tell the same story but has one interesting sentence which is not in Matthew”s account. It says, "Jesus came towards them walking on water. He intended to pass them by." Because fear is the result of your own perception, the resolution to overcome fear must come from your own initiative. You have to take it. Otherwise, the opportunity to go beyond the fear passes you by. God is the help in times of need, but you have to take action to take it.

3. Then you have to let go of some crutches, if you should go forward. Peter tried, and got off the boat managing the first few steps that had seemed impossible. Yes, Peter started to sink after a few steps, because he was not so sure about this "walking on water" business. But the first few steps must be taken. And Peter took them. In order to do that, you have to get off the boat. Remember when you first started on your two wheel bicycle, or went solo driving a car? You have to do it by yourself. No one can do it for you. Yes, the first few days or weeks, you do fall off the bike or scratch the side of the car. But that is the only way to get rid of the fear of the unknown, to learn a few lessons, and to go forward. But first you must learn to let go of things. For ceratin, we fail a few times. But that is natural. This is how God helps us to learn the lessons of life: you can”t walk on water unless you get off the boat. And when you do, you sink into water once or twice. We must learn not to feel too bad about our mistakes.

A man approached a farmer who was sitting on a front porch, and asked, "How”s your wheat coming along?" "Didn”t plant none." was the reply. "Really. Why?" "Afraid it would rain too much", said the farmer.

"Oh! Well, how”s your corn?" "Ain”t got none." "You didn”t plant corn either?" "Nope

B: GOD LIVES IN A BATHROOM? – LAST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

A BEAUTIFUL DWELLING PLACE FOR GOD

1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11,22-30,41-43, Psalm 84 644 1 Cor.: 3:10-17

August 27, 2000 by Tad Mitsui

In a book called "Children”s Letters to God", a boy by the name of Jimmy wrote, "Dear God, I went to New York City and saw St. Partick”s Cathedral. You live in a big house. Yours truly, Jimmy." There was another child who thought God lived in the bathroom. A Sunday School teacher asked her why. She said, "Every morning my Dad shouts in front of the bathroom, "My God, are you still there?" Where does God live? It”s a good question, isn”t it? In the church? Is the church a house of God? Today”s story from the Book of Kings answers some of that question.

It is a story of King Solomon who dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem. Now he and his kingdom could undertake an expensive project because he was a very successful king. He expanded his kingdom to into an empire. The people of Israel under his reign stopped fighting among each other and became one unified nation. Solomon”s reputation as a wise king became known throughout the Mediterranean world. Many foreign leaders came to pay respect to King Solomon, thus many profitable trade relations were established. As the result, Solomon”s kingdom became a very wealthy country.

But he did not feel fulfilled. He felt that he had to do something extra special for God. So he built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. Its splendour was comparable to many magnificent ancient Greek and Roman architectures. When it was completed, Solomon enshrined the Box of Covenant with the original stone tablets of the laws of Moses in it. On the day of dedication, he felt he was blessed and humbled. His long prayer shows how proud and humble he felt. It also answers the question about the place where God lives. Let me mention three important points from his prayer.

First thing I noticed was that Solomon did not think that his Temple was big enough for God. He said, "Can you, O God, really live any place on earth? Not even all of heaven is large enough to hold you, so how can this Temple that I have built be large enough?" He built the Temple for the Covenant Box to be enshrined, and for people to pray. "Hear my prayers and the prayers of your people when they face this place and pray." he said. In other words, he believed that anything we humans could build or think of, not even what we perceive as heaven, was not good enough for God to live in. We can not box God into something we can think of. If you think that the church is the only place where God lives, you are wrong.

In other words, a church building is a people”s house. It is a place where God”s words are spoken and where we pray to God in response. This is the second point I want to make in Solomon”s prayer. The church is not the house of God, it is the people”s house of prayer. Jesus said when he chased the merchants out of the Temple, "You have made the house of prayer into the house of thieves." It is the house for people to hear the word of God, as was contained in the Covenant Box, and today as is heard in the reading of the Bible. It is also the house for people to come together and pray together. Anyone can read the Bible and can pray alone at home. But we must also come together to share our experiences of God. We all can hear the word of God by ourselves. But you must come to church to make sure that it was God”s words you heard, not the last night”s pepperoni pizza giving you heart-burn. You can learn by yourself, but it is always better if you have a chance to compare notes and learn with others. If there are sufficient number of people who want to learn together, you can put some money together and hire a teacher who might shed light into a difficult question. Those teachers were called Rabbis, and Ministers in our case. It is the same with the prayer. We all have to have our own private prayer time. But when we pray together, we feel the power of prayer.

Lastly, the Temple was built when the unity of people was achieved. Now that the people of Israel stopped fighting among themselves, they were able to undertake a big project like building an expensive temple. King Solomon was able to summon, without any fear of old feuds erupting all over again, all the leaders of the tribes and the clans of Israel to come together in Jerusalem. It is quite an achievement. Building Solomon”s Temple became possible when the unity of the nation was achieved. Likewise, the real church can exist if there is harmony among people of God. We make a mockery out of our Gospel when the church is divided. We come to church to hear the word and to pray together, not to settle the score.

When the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in a race to reach the outer space, one Russian Cosmonaut had gone into the space and declared, "I went into heaven and looked around. But I didn”t see God." Obviously, he hadn”t read the Book of Kings. God is too big for the heavens, as King Solomon declared. What we called "Heaven" as in the opening of the Lord"s Prayer "Our Father, who art in Heaven" is a metaphor for something beyond us. Not a place "up there." God is everywhere. He comes to meet us in the church. Solomon believed in God”s presence in the words of the Covenant. As we hear the words of God in the Bible with others in the church, and we respond in prayer in words and in music, we are repeating the same thing that King Solomon saw in the Temple in Jerusalem.

God is everywhere. Most importantly, He lives within each one of us in the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul called our bodies the temple of God. This notion, in fact, is the very basis of our moral ethics. Because our bodies are where God lives, we have to try our best to keep it clean. Inevitably, a house collects dust and falls into disrepair. That”s normal. Don”t be ashamed about it. We clean it up from time to time. Because we are all the temples of God, we must be good to each other, too. When we are kind to each other, we are being kind to God. We are the beautiful dwelling place of God. Let us remember that.

 

 

 

 

C: YOU ARE THE BEST GOD CREATED

YOU ARE THE BEST GOD CREATED

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 72, Luke 13:10-17

August 23, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

I once wrote to my father asking for money. I was travelling and I ran out of money. I was embarrassed. I began my letter with a line, "Sorry to sound like a spoiled brat, but…" "I – a spoiled brat" is a common expression that Japanese people use when they ask for a favour. When I received a cheque in a mail, there was a note, "I don”t mind giving you money, but don”t say I spoiled you." Inadvertently I implied that my father was the one who made me a spoiled brat. Humility is not always a virtue. You think you are being humble, but you may be humiliating another person by denigrating yourself. For example, don”t say, "I”m just a housewife." or "I am only a farmer." You may be insulting another housewife or a farmer, who is proud of being one. Besides, if you present yourself cheaply, you are insulting God who created you.

Self-deprecation is not really humility. Jeremiah had to be told that. God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet when he was still a young boy. But Jeremiah was afraid and tried to wiggle out of it. He responded, "How can I be a prophet? I don”t know how to speak. I am only a boy." Many important persons in the Bible made the same kind of responses when they were asked by God to take up God”s work. "I am always slow to speak – I am not eloquent." said Moses. "I come from foul-mouthed people, and I am a man of unclean lips." said Isaiah. But God did not like that kind of false humility. God said to Jeremiah, "Who are you to say that you can not do what I want you to do? I have known you long before you knew yourself. I know you better than you know yourself. I tell you to be a prophet because I know you can be." God did not accept their self-deprecation. All three of them became powerful prophets, because in the end they said "Yes" to God. They said "Yes" to life.

God created humans and looked at the man and the woman, and blessed them. God is happy with us. We must never forget that. We must never think of ourselves as unacceptable or worthless. Most of us are shy when we appear in front of a crowd. We are afraid because we don”t know who are in the crowd and are not sure if they accept us. But if you know that you are accepted as you are, you will not be shy. You are not shy at home, because at home you are accepted as you are. When you feel shy and want to hide, you are trying to protect yourself from embarrassment. When we feel small and good for nothing, let us fight the temptation to hide. We must remember that we are good, because God made us and said that we were good. Let us not hide from life, let us say "Yes" to life.

Unfortunately, we live in the world of competition. This is why humiliating others and making them feel small is the name of the game in the real world. As Christians, we reject the idea that the laws of competition should control the world. We believe in the compassionate world. We believe in the world where the smallest and the weakest are loved and respected as well as any other member of the society. We come to the church and learn how to create a world where everybody, no matter how different he or she is, is equally loved and respected. We believe in creating such a place everywhere, in the family, among friends, and in the neighbourhood.

Competition has its place. It”s fun to compete in a card game, at a curling rink, and in a baseball diamond. Win or lose, it”s all for fun. If competition is the best way to run the business, the rules of competition should be strictly for business. Business must never decide how they are treated. We must firmly reject the idea that only winning in the competitions makes a person important. We are all acceptable and immensely valuable in the eyes of God. When we know this, we will be able to live our life in the best way God has intended us to live without shying away from life”s challenge. The story of the call of Jeremiah is not only for prophets. It is a lesson for all of us.

There was a woman in Nova Scotia, who said "Yes" to life. Maude Lewis had a difficult life. She was born in 1903. She was severely deformed due to birth defect. Her fingers were all curled up, shoulders hunched, and her chin pressed into the chest. She lived all her life in an one room house without running water nor hydro. She eked out a meagre living by painting and by selling pictures on any surface of material she could find. She painted in bright colours dreamlike figures of birds and cows, fields and mountains, and pretty houses and ordinary people, on the pieces of discarded wall paper, cardboard, and wood, etc. Tourists found her paintings and started to swarm Marshalltown where she lived. She did not see much of the fruit of her success, because her miserable husband, Everet, creamed off most of the earnings and hid them from her. When she dies in 1970, she was buried in a pauper”s grave in a child size coffin. But she left behind hundreds of exuberant paintings, which made her an icon of Canadian Folk Art today. Many of them have toured widely across the country and are on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Maude Lewis lived fully as God intended her to live. She could have complained bitterly about the miserable conditions she was born into. But she didn”t. She said, "Yes" to life and shared with thousands of her visitor the beauty and joy of God”s creation.

God”s call is not only for Prophets. God calls all of us to be whatever we are meant to be. Let us not say, "I am only a…" and shy away from the idea that you can not have a meaningful life to live. Maude Lewis performed her role superbly on God”s stage. We can do that too. So let us say, "yes" to God”s call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: AVOIDING ROAD RAGE – LAST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

AVOIDING ROAD RAGE

Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105 (VU 828 Matthew 16:21-28

VU 213 , 560, 701, 713

August 28, 2005

Imagine yourself in this situation: You are driving on a two-lane crowded highway. You are speeding but just a little, like 5 km per hour. Someone is tailgating you with only a few yards behind. He is nudging you to speed up or to get off the road. You could understand why some people explode in "road rage" and do something stupid, but you won’t do that. The difference between those who get into road rage and commit violent acts and yourself is that your anger is under control. Your anger does not consume you, even in such an annoying situation. Thank God for the gift of self-control. But that does not mean anger as such is bad. Anger is an important passion that leads you to fight evil and injustice. We have to be angry from time to time to do the right thing, provided that you act in a controlled manner.

There are many kinds of emotions and impulses that are important for us. Anger is one. Sexual desire is another. It lets us in an intimate and pleasurable way to express our love for the one you love very much, and sometimes lets us make babies. Appetite is another one. It lets us want food. Without it, our health will fail and eventually we will starve to death. But those strong emotions impulses can also consume us and drive us into destructive behaviors such as senseless violence, sexual crime, and over eating and obesity. Emotions and passions are not bad. But they can be the causes of evil once they take over you and become obsession. When Moses saw a bush burning without being consumed by fire, God was showing him God’s important gifts of passion and our responsibility to use them constructively and responsively.

Let me go back to the beginning of the story. When Moses saw a burning bush in the desert, he was in exile and his self-esteem almost vanished. He grew up in an imperial palace as an adopted son of a princess. He was a prince of the mighty Egyptian Empire, the most powerful nation at the time. He lived with pleasure, privilege, power, and wealth. But one day, he was driven by righteous anger and committed murder. He saw an Egyptian beating up a Jewish slave. Moses got very angry and killed the Egyptian. He tried to hide the crime, but realized that some Jews witnessed his murder. When Moses tried to stop two Jews fighting, they asked, "Who are you to interfere in our business? Are you going to kill us just like you killed the Egyptian?" Moses realized that he had no moral authority among his own people. He had to give up everything, and flee into the desert in shame. He married a local girl and had to lower himself by becoming a homeless nomad – a shepherd. What a come down, just because he could not control anger. Fire consumed the bush.

He spent days absent-mindedly watching sheep munching grass. He sustained himself by eating rats and snakes or whatever he found in the desert. He slept on the sand in rags to shield himself against the chill of the night. He was completely wrapped up in boredom, despair, misery, and self-pity. On one of those dreary days, he saw a bush fire. He went to take a look and noticed that fire was burning but bush stayed the same, not consumed. Very strange indeed. He watched it for a while trying to figure out what was going on. Then he heard the voice calling his name, "Moses, Moses!" He answered, "Hear I am." Then the voice said, "Don’t come any closer. Take your sandals off. This is a holy ground." This was how God revealed himself to Moses. God is passionate without causing harm.

The Bible is filled with wonderful stories like this. They are not just wonderful, but are full of wonders. How do you read the stories that are full of wonders? Those incredible stories give us problems in this day and age of science and technology. Many have left the church having decided that religions are just superstitions, because of these unbelievable stories. For us who remain in the church, the question is how we understand the stories like this, making it possible for us to keep on believing in religion. Many people believe that every word, sentence, and story in the Bible is factually and historically correct. Because God is almighty, everything is possible for him. God is a god of miracle. If you don’t believe it, you don’t believe in the god of the Bible. For those people miracles are the proof of existence of god, they tell you.

I do not to believe in that way. And I suspect that many people in the United Church share the way I believe. But I believe that I am a genuine Christian and a no less believer than those who believe the Bible literally. I am proud of my faith in the way I believe. However, I must make sure that I never condemn the different ways other people believe. If it is important for them to believe in that way, I respect it, so long as they do not condemn my way.

I believe that many wonderful stories in the Bible are exactly that – stories. They might have happened in the way that are written in the Bible, or may not have. But I doesn’t bother me if they are just stories either. It is not important for me to know if it happened the way they are written in the Bible or they are made up stories to make a point. Jesus told many made up stories to make his point. That doesn’t make those parables, like "Good Samaritan", any less important. It is making an extremely important point. What makes them sacred and central for my belief is what those stories mean. You have to realize that ancient people did not have language to express concepts. So, they wrote wonderful stories to express their sense of sacred. That does not diminish the importance of what they are trying to say to us. They are stories to tell us truths. They are called myths.

Unfortunately nowadays, there is a tendency to dismiss myth as untruth. I think it’s wrong to call it "untruth." We must recover the importance of myth as a way to convey truth. One of the world’s greatest scholar of English language Northrop Frye once said, "Myth is an expression of the most profound reality." Some truths are beyond words. The deeper the truth, the less there are word to describe it. How do you convey your sympathy to someone who just lost a child. Words are never enough to express deepest emotions. So we tell stories and show our emotions in our actions. That does not mean the stories you tell are lies and are not important. They could be more important and true than just saying mere words and listing some facts.

A little girl said to her mother, "Mommy, I love you. I love you so much," by describing the size of her love with hands like we describe the size of the fish we caught. The distance between two hands became wider and wider, because mere distance between two hands just didn’t describe enormity of little girl’s love of mother. So in the end she just hugged mother. The little girl loved Mom so much that she threw the whole of herself into Mom’s arms. Myths are like that. I think that often words are too shallow to describe truth.

The story of the burning bush, for example, tells more important truth than a mere strange phenomenon. Any magician can easily recreate Moses’ burning bush. Such a magic does not, for me, reveal God. Such a god is too shallow and small for me. But the god who revealed himself in the burning bush to Moses was the one who affirms passion as important gift of God by telling us that it is our duty to exercise responsibility. He was telling Moses, "It is OK to feel anger when one sees cruelty and injustice. But do not be consumed by passion. Use it constructively and patiently." That was a very profound message. When Moses saw the point, he realized that he was standing before the God almighty, who was ready to send Moses off to his enormously important mission. He was to lead a whole nation from slavery to freedom.

From that time on, Moses was a powerful but patient and wise leader of the nation. He never lost the love of people. The passion for his people never diminished. But he was ever so patient, never lost love for people, no matter how many time they betrayed him. Let us learn to be passionate in love, but also to be patient and wise in loving. Let us not waste our precious gift of passion by being consumed by it.

 

 

 

 

 

C: JUDGEMENT AS AN ACT OF LOVE – THIRD SUNDAY OF AUGUST

JUDGEMENT OF LOVE

Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80, Luke 12:54-56

August 15, 2004 by Tad Mitsui

When I was a child, I used to enjoy the summer festival at a Buddhist temple. There was a community dance, a circus, rides of all sorts, a big open-air market and the exhibitions of arts depicting Buddhist legends and stories. There was one room I avoided. It had a huge mural depicting scenes of Hell. It was a horribly vivid painting of many torture scenes. Seeing it first time, I had nightmares that night. So I never went back again. In Europe too, you will see the same kind of gory pictures of Hell among medieval religious art.

We don”t talk much about hell in our church these days. I believe that our idea of hell has changed. Today”s passages in both Isaiah and Luke tell us that God”s judgement is certainly an important part of the message of the Bible. But judgement and hell are not the same. This morning, the suggested Bible passages make us think about judgement in our belief.

First of all, we notice that the Prophet Isaiah began speaking about the judgement of God in a parable and called it the love-song of the beloved. This sounds a little bizarre. Judgement is a love-song? We usually dread God”s judgement. We call it in such terms as "Fire and brimstone, Eternal damnation, or Hell," etc. But we must realize that here the Bible spoke about the judgment as the time of reckoning. And in God’s accounting, the bottom line is justice and mercy, not punishment.

In this sense, we disagree with the ideas of Hell as represented by the old religious arts. We realize that many religious leaders have used the image of Hell as a threat to exercise their power blackmailing ignorant people into submission. Let us not go back to the dark ages where God was a jail guard. We believe in the religion where our God is love. In his love God credits us where credit is due and points out to us the mistakes we may have made. That’s true love.

Unfortunately, some religious people abuse their power with a threat of God’s judgement even today. Their words were full of condemnations, hatred, and punishments and rejections. We remind ourselves that we believe in a merciful and loving God who does not enjoy punishing people.

How, then, can the judgement be described as a love-song? The answer lies in our belief in our loving and trusting relationship with God. It is just like our relationship with our spouses, children, and friends. In such a relationship, it is an important to pause from time to time, to celebrate what we have accomplished together, and correct it where it went wrong. We do that at the dinner table, while we are driving, or in a quiet chat before we fall asleep. Nowadays, we call it a quality time.

The parable in the Isaiah begins with a vineyard owner working hard to create the best conditions for the vines. Likewise, God loves us and takes the best care of us. That is the nature of our relationship with God. On that well prepared soil, we do our part to grow and produce fruits. It is a partnership. God does his part and we do ours. God trusts us.

When a partnership works well, the time to stop and check each other is a time of delight. From time to time, we celebrate our life together big time like harvest time. Anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, even the funerals are the time of celebration of our lives together. They are important time of accounting. The judgement of God is the time for accounting. For those who do their part faithfully, the reward of justice is a source of comfort and joy, and recognition of shortcomings is a gift of an opportunity to learn.

True love demands justice and fairness in accounting. The judgement of God is not a rejection. When we fail, we will bear the consequences. But even then God patiently waits for us to start a new vineyard. He gives us chance to begin afresh. God is ready to forgive us and to bring us back into a new relationship.

Often you hear of parents who defend their criminal child. You may want to call it foolish love. But if I was a criminal, I would be grateful that there was at least one person in the whole wide world who would still love me despite my mistakes. God is like the parent who never ceases to love. God does not ignore our guilt. Instead, he suffers more because of it, like the parent of a criminal does. The judgement of God is not an act of rejection. It is an opportunity to take stock of his relationship with us. Let us look forward to it. And if we fail, let us learn lessons from it. Judgement of God is a love song, not hell.

A : FIRE THAT DOESN”T CONSUME – FIRST SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

FIRE THAT DOES NOT CONSUME

EXODUS 2 & 3, PSALM 104 (#10 MATTHEW 16:21-23

September 1, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

When Moses saw a burning bush in the desert, he was already a broken man. His passionate idealism got him into trouble a few times. He even killed a man. He not only became a wanted man, but also was a man of shattered dreams. So he went into exile, got married and settled down into the boring life of a shepherd. The fire of passion was bad news for Moses. But one day he saw another kind of fire on a mountain in the Sinai desert. There was a fire but it was not burning up the bush. He drew near and tried to see this strange phenomenon. And there he met God. And when he came down from the mountain, Moses was a changed man. He rediscovered his idealism – his passionate commitment for his people, and was more determined to pursue his goal. He was more aware of his shortcomings but was more sure of himself knowing that God was with him.

Thanks to the ingenious acts of defiance committed by some women, Moses, though he was a son of slaves, grew up in a palace as a prince. But evidently his birth mother did not allow him to forget his national identity. Inside of his well groomed and elegantly clothed appearance, there was a fire burning. It was a passion for his people. This passionate nationalism could easily be transformed into a consuming hatred towards those people who enslaved his kinsfolk. But he lived in the palace of the oppressors. What a dilemma.

One day, passion had overtaken him. He killed an Egyptian overseer who was abusing a Hebrew slave. He was going to hide his crime. And he could have got away with it; after all he was a prince. But shortly afterwards in a totally unrelated incident, when he tried to intervene in a fight of two Hebrew men, they loudly challenged him by asking if he had guts to kill them also. He realized then that he had no moral authority. The rumour must have spread. The king heard it, too. Moses became a wanted man. He fled Egypt and went into the hills of Sinai desert. There again, his good intentions got him into trouble. He defended some women against local shepherds. He managed to make himself an enemy of the men of the region. His heart was in the right place, but his acts of passion always got him into trouble. But by the end of this episode, Moses was a matured man with exhausted idealism. He married the daughter of a local priest, one of the women he had defended, and had some kids. He had no more patriotic passion. His zeal for good deeds was spent. He now knew better. He would stay away from this dangerous fire. Fire consumes. He retired into a safe life of tending his father-in-law”s sheep.

Moses had had a comfortable life as a prince in the royal household. But his passion ruined this life style. He learned the lesson well. No more passion, no more adventures. They are silly things that destroy quiet lives. This is where most of us end up. We work hard putting in long hours, raise a family and make money to be comfortable. There is no time left to be idealistic. When he reached this stage, Moses was 80 years old, according to the Bible. Even if that meant 40 years old according to our way of counting years, the point is clear. He became a mature man who stopped doing things out of passion.

But that was not the way it was meant to be for Moses. He was chosen to be the leader who would free his people from slavery. He had a mission in his life. But he did not know that until he saw the fire that did not consume a bush. God told him in a vision of the burning bush that there was fire that empowered. There is a fire that nourishes and sustains. A wick does not burn up so long as there is a constant supply of oil. But first God told Moses to honour the ordinary things of life.

When he saw the fire which was not burning up the bush, God told him to take his shoes off. He was standing on holy ground. In other words, God told Moses that what seemed to be only his boring daily life was in fact a holy place. Moses felt that he had to settle into routine life as a punishment for his immaturity after he failed in his adventures. It was silly on his part to be driven by youthful passions. But he was reminded that where he stood was actually holy ground. Much of our daily life is holy. Like Moses, we also have moments of resignation thinking that reality of our life is pretty boring, nothing to write home about. We may think: "I have no time to be like a Mother Teresa." The media do not help us either. They tell us that there are other lives that are more exciting than ours. We should go places. We should look different. We should earn more money. There are adventures out there, but not here. Then God says, " What you are doing is an important thing. It is holy ground where you are. You have to be brave to be a mother. It takes guts to be a teenager and a church going Christian. Being a farmer is not easy; farming is like a high stake gamble. It is a holy ground where you are. Respect what you are doing. Take your shoes off." No leader can lead by escaping reality. Leadership begins with respect for the ”here and now”. Take your shoes off. This recognition of the importance of the ordinary is a fire that does not consume. Any one who does not recognize the holiness of the ordinary fails in the first test of leadership.

Then God told Moses to go back to where he failed. Of course, Moses did not want to hear that. He made all sorts of excuses. "Why me? I failed in the past. Surely there are better persons to do it." He was too tired to remember his long forgotten passion. "I tried and I failed. Saving my people from slavery is a big job. There must be a better person to do it, out there somewhere, but not here. The fire inside of me got me into trouble, and made me a failure. I paid my dues. No more, please." An interesting thing about this dialogue between God and Moses is that God did not go into the subject of Moses” shortcomings. God was silent about his past failures and weaknesses. The only words the Bible records as God”s response to Moses” excuses was, "Go. I will be with you." It was a promise to accompany him.

We often forget that being human means we are limited. No one is perfect. To make mistakes is human. This is why believing that we can achieve perfection is a disease of mind, because we can not attain it. Only God can be perfect. God does not ask us to be perfect. He does, however, ask us to do our best. Excellence is not perfection. It is doing the best we can do. And God always stays with us. We only have to be aware of his presence. That will enpower and sustain us. When I learned to ride a bicycle, my father held on to the seat of my bike, and ran with me as I pedalled. He kept shouting, "Faster, faster." At one point, I realized the voice behind me was receding and began to sound far away. He was no longer holding on to the bike. I was riding the bike by myself. God tells us to "Go on your own, and give your best." He does not promise that we are perfect and we don”t make mistakes. But he promises that he will be with us always.

All of us were born with a mission. Many of us live a normal life, but some of us live differently. But to characterize some life-style as exciting and others as boring is a misunderstanding of our mission. Even those extraordinary persons who become leaders must know the importance of every person”s purpose in life. Otherwise, their inner fire will burn them up no matter how spectacular their lives seem to be. We know so many ruined lives even though they seem rich and famous. Let us take our shoes off. Where we are is holy ground. This is where God is, who nourishes and sustains us constantly. God is like the unlimited supply of oil. A candle will burn out. But our lamp can go on burning so long as there is oil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: LET”S SUPPOSE WE WERE ROBBERS OR VICTIMS? – SECOND SUNDAY OF JULY

ROBBERS AND VICTIMS

LUKE 10: 25 – 37

Nobody wants to be a victim, neither does one want to think of oneself as a robber. This is why we prefer to speak about the Good Samaritan and not so much about the other characters in the story. But there are many important lessons to be learned about robbers and victims, too. Because we”ve all heard about the good Samaritan, I decided to talk today about being robbers and victims. I must warn you though, it may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. I found it so myself.

About the victim: Unfortunately, everyone is a potential victim. In the story Jesus told, a man was on a way from Jerusalem to Jericho, and encountered an unexpected disaster. He was robbed, wounded, lying on the ground totally helpless. Travelling from point A to point B, that kind of things can happen to any one of us. But we prefer to think that being a victim only happens to other people.

This is because we want to be in control of ourselves all the time. Our culture places high value on being independent and in charge of our lives. We take all sorts of precautions so that we will not be in a helpless position. We are proud to be able to look after ourselves. This is why, when disaster strikes, we feel guilty. We feel that we have fallen into this situation because we were not prepared, were not good enough, or we did something wrong. We say that to the victims, too, saying, "It”s your own fault." Victims are punished instead of the perpetrator being named.

We blame poor people for being lazy. We blame assaulted women for inviting such a fate by being insolent or wearing provocative clothes. One of my past parishioners was once very angry when I visited him in a hospital. He did not want anyone to know that he was seriously ill. He firmly believed that sickness was a result of sinful living. Poor man. He did not want to admit that he was vulnerable. He did not allow others to care for him and love him. He was proud, so being cared for was a shameful state of affairs.

The most serious problem about not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is our reluctance to open ourselves to others. Because we are proud and think that we are in total control of ourselves, basically we don”t want others to help us. We shut them out. We don”t allow others to love us, or care for us. There is absolutely no shame in being loved. But we somehow feel ashamed – and this is especially true for men – that other people know we are in need of help, and are vulnerable. We must know the limit of our abilities. There comes a time in everyone”s life to realize that receiving a loved one”s care is normal. Let”s admit that we are sometimes helpless, and that there is no shame in that.

Because we are proud, we have a tendency to prefer taking what we need rather than waiting for others to give it to us. We live in a culture which admires aggressive people rather than patient people. I think this is why violence in entertainment is popular. You see, we have the seed of a potential robber in all of us. If we don”t have something, we take it. The only way to keep the robber in us in check is to nurture humility. Humility reminds us that we are not the almighty. There are things that we can not do. We need to wait from time to time for others to come to our rescue. And we have to be ready to accept that. That is called humility. Otherwise, how can we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sin? We are totally vulnerable before the cross of Jesus. That is the basis of our Christian faith.

There is another interesting twist in this story. It is called opting out. It was the option chosen by the priest and the Levite. It can also be called lack of commitment, making excuses, or cowardice. You say, "Sorry, no time, I have a dentist”s appointment." You know how it goes. You may even have done it. I remember doing it from time to time myself.

The priest and Levite were professional do-gooders. It was their job to act as God”s agents. But they had excuses, probably good ones. There must have been an important worship service, where hundreds were waiting for the priest to arrive. You can”t let down the hundreds on account of mere one wounded man. There could have been an important congregational meeting in which the Levite had to chair. You can not run an efficient organization with sentimentality. We know. Don”t we? So we passed by on the other side of the road, pretending that we did not see the dying man.

The typical moral drawn from those characters of the priest and Levite is that we too easily wait for others to pick up the slack, to do the things which we should do. But wait a minute, didn”t I just say that there are times when we must wait for others to help us? Perhaps it”s a question of balance. The trick is to have the wisdom to know the difference between when to act and when to wait. There is a prayer I love to say from time to time, written by a great American Christian and theologian, Reinhold Niebur. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Of course, there will be times when we have to act with courage, without waiting for others. That is the time for assertive attitudes and action. But there is a world of difference between acting courageously on behalf of others, and acting aggressively on behalf of ourselves. It is wisdom, coupled with humility, that helps us judge the line between assertiveness in aggression and assertiveness in courage. The exercise of such wisdom is itself an act of courage, and not an excuse. Sometimes such wisdom leads us to wait, to accept the fact that there are some things we cannot do, and to accept the care of others. Sometimes such wisdom motivates us to act. But then the action is based on love for God and love for other people. Love is the measurement for what is important and what is less important. It helps us to discern the difference between waiting and opting out.

Let us hope that we will learn to know God”s standard of love so we know what we can not do and admit it honestly, and what we can do and act on it courageously. The victim, the robber, the Levite, the Priest and the Samaritan all travel within us. Only love can tell us which character”s footsteps most mark our souls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C: WHAT ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE THAN THE GOOD SAMARITAN? – THIRD SUNDAY OF JULY

ROBBERS AND VICTIMS

LUKE 10: 25 – 37

Nobody wants to be a victim, neither does one want to think of oneself as a robber. This is why we prefer to speak about the Good Samaritan and not so much about the other characters in the story. But there are many important lessons to be learned about robbers and victims, too. Because we”ve all heard about the good Samaritan, I decided to talk today about being robbers and victims. I must warn you though, it may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. I found it so myself.

About the victim: Unfortunately, everyone is a potential victim. In the story Jesus told, a man was on a way from Jerusalem to Jericho, and encountered an unexpected disaster. He was robbed, wounded, lying on the ground totally helpless. Travelling from point A to point B, that kind of things can happen to any one of us. But we prefer to think that being a victim only happens to other people.

This is because we want to be in control of ourselves all the time. Our culture places high value on being independent and in charge of our lives. We take all sorts of precautions so that we will not be in a helpless position. We are proud to be able to look after ourselves. This is why, when disaster strikes, we feel guilty. We feel that we have fallen into this situation because we were not prepared, were not good enough, or we did something wrong. We say that to the victims, too, saying, "It”s your own fault." Victims are punished instead of the perpetrator being named.

We blame poor people for being lazy. We blame assaulted women for inviting such a fate by being insolent or wearing provocative clothes. One of my past parishioners was once very angry when I visited him in a hospital. He did not want anyone to know that he was seriously ill. He firmly believed that sickness was a result of sinful living. Poor man. He did not want to admit that he was vulnerable. He did not allow others to care for him and love him. He was proud, so being cared for was a shameful state of affairs.

The most serious problem about not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is our reluctance to open ourselves to others. Because we are proud and think that we are in total control of ourselves, basically we don”t want others to help us. We shut them out. We don”t allow others to love us, or care for us. There is absolutely no shame in being loved. But we somehow feel ashamed – and this is especially true for men – that other people know we are in need of help, and are vulnerable. We must know the limit of our abilities. There comes a time in everyone”s life to realize that receiving a loved one”s care is normal. Let”s admit that we are sometimes helpless, and that there is no shame in that.

Because we are proud, we have a tendency to prefer taking what we need rather than waiting for others to give it to us. We live in a culture which admires aggressive people rather than patient people. I think this is why violence in entertainment is popular. You see, we have the seed of a potential robber in all of us. If we don”t have something, we take it. The only way to keep the robber in us in check is to nurture humility. Humility reminds us that we are not the almighty. There are things that we can not do. We need to wait from time to time for others to come to our rescue. And we have to be ready to accept that. That is called humility. Otherwise, how can we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sin? We are totally vulnerable before the cross of Jesus. That is the basis of our Christian faith.

There is another interesting twist in this story. It is called opting out. It was the option chosen by the priest and the Levite. It can also be called lack of commitment, making excuses, or cowardice. You say, "Sorry, no time, I have a dentist”s appointment." You know how it goes. You may even have done it. I remember doing it from time to time myself.

The priest and Levite were professional do-gooders. It was their job to act as God”s agents. But they had excuses, probably good ones. There must have been an important worship service, where hundreds were waiting for the priest to arrive. You can”t let down the hundreds on account of mere one wounded man. There could have been an important congregational meeting in which the Levite had to chair. You can not run an efficient organization with sentimentality. We know. Don”t we? So we passed by on the other side of the road, pretending that we did not see the dying man.

The typical moral drawn from those characters of the priest and Levite is that we too easily wait for others to pick up the slack, to do the things which we should do. But wait a minute, didn”t I just say that there are times when we must wait for others to help us? Perhaps it”s a question of balance. The trick is to have the wisdom to know the difference between when to act and when to wait. There is a prayer I love to say from time to time, written by a great American Christian and theologian, Reinhold Niebur. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Of course, there will be times when we have to act with courage, without waiting for others. That is the time for assertive attitudes and action. But there is a world of difference between acting courageously on behalf of others, and acting aggressively on behalf of ourselves. It is wisdom, coupled with humility, that helps us judge the line between assertiveness in aggression and assertiveness in courage. The exercise of such wisdom is itself an act of courage, and not an excuse. Sometimes such wisdom leads us to wait, to accept the fact that there are some things we cannot do, and to accept the care of others. Sometimes such wisdom motivates us to act. But then the action is based on love for God and love for other people. Love is the measurement for what is important and what is less important. It helps us to discern the difference between waiting and opting out.

Let us hope that we will learn to know God”s standard of love so we know what we can not do and admit it honestly, and what we can do and act on it courageously. The victim, the robber, the Levite, the Priest and the Samaritan all travel within us. Only love can tell us which character”s footsteps most mark our souls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: WHERE DOES GOD LIVE? – THIRD SUNDAY OF JULY

WHERE DOES GOD LIVE?

Genesis 28:10-19, Psalm 139, Matthew 13:24-30

July 18, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

One Sunday, a Sunday School teacher asked everybody in her class to write a letter to God. So Jimmy wrote: "Dear God, I went to New York last summer and saw St. Patrick”s Cathedral. You live in a big house." But today”s story about Jacob pretty well destroys Jimmy”s theory about the house of God, doesn”t it? The passage means that St. Patrick”s Cathedral is not necessarily God”s house, neither is any church. Jacob named a place where he slept "Bethel". It means the house of God. It was where, in a dream, he saw a staircase leading to God in the desert. Jacob”s experience of God tells us that God meets with us anywhere even in the depth of despair, and that the house of God can be any place where God meets with us.

When Essau realized that his own brother Jacob had tricked him and stole all he was entitled to inherit, he was so angry that he vowed to kill Jacob. Confronted with such anger, neither his mother Rebecca nor his father Isaac could help Jacob. Both of them urged him to run for his life as fast as he could, to their homeland, ten days walking distance away. He was alone. He had nothing, no food nor water. He had only the clothes he had on. He had to run for his life.

The worst thing about it is that Jacob brought all this to himself and by himself. He had nobody else to blame but himself. When he stole blessing from his father and brother, he was thinking only about himself. He thought he was being clever. But he was too conceited see that his wit could destroy him, if he didn”t take others into account. He didn”t even think about God. Blessing comes from God. Blessing means nothing without faith in God. Isaac was only a conduit for the blessing of God. Jacob behaved as though alone he could control everything. He was wrong. Jacob could not blame anybody but himself.

He ran and ran. The sun in that part of the world can be so strong that it can kill you. By the time he laid down his head on a stone to sleep, it was more accurate to say that he just collapsed and fell into unconsciousness. Then he had a dream. He saw the stairs that landed just beside the place where he was sleeping. He saw angels going up and down. On top of the stairs was God. God spoke to Jacob, "I am the God of your grandparents and your parents. I promised to them that their offsprings will be blessed and prosper. I now promise the same to you. Remember, I am with you now and will be with you always." Jacob woke up in the morning and said to himself, "God has always been with me. And I didn”t know that." He picked up the stone which he was using as a pillow, and set it up like a monument and said, "I call this place Bethel – the house of God, because this is where I realized that God had always been with me."

This Jacob”s experience teaches us that God is with us in the darkest of the dark moments in our lives. Psalm 23rd says, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For thou art with me." Our fundamental code of beliefs, the "Apostle”s Creed" is even more explicit, "(Jesus) was crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell." God meets us in the most desperate situation, even in hell, to be with us.

Once I had a parishioner who became addicted to gambling. He gambled away his family business and the family home. His wife and children kicked him out. When I saw him in a downtown flop house, he said to me he really missed the church. But he said he had no nerve to go to church in his predicament. He promised that he would change, work hard, pay all gambling debts, and then ask his family to take him back. He promised that he would come to church when he could come with his family. Another story: an unemployed woman said to me, "I have no clothes to wear to church." If you take the teaching of the story of Jacob seriously, both of them were wrong. God meets with you at the worst possible moment of your life. The church is the right place for them to be. On the other hand, if the church gave them an impression that they could not come to church if they were not perfect and respectable enough, there was something fundamentally wrong about the church. The house of God should be the place where God meets with anyone who is in a dire straight. If the church gives the impression that one has to be squeaky clean to be allowed in, God does not live that church. If the church is called the house of God, it should be where the sinners meet God.

If you believe that God is with you in the worst possible moment in your life, you will have a courage to endure. Victor Frankl was a psychologist who survived a Nazi death camp, and wrote a book about his whole experience from a psychologist”s point of view. He noticed that people, who knew the meaning of life because of their strong religious conviction, had much better chance of surviving hardship than those who did not see beyond the here-and-now. God meets with us at the worst possible moment of our life.

We run into difficulties because of our mistakes and weaknesses. Also misfortunes strike all of us for no fault of our own. God does not promise to steer all problems away from us. They come, just like rains fall on the good and the bad without discrimination. But God does promise to be with us always. And that belief gives us courage and strength to endure. Jacob had to go through many difficult experiences in his life. But he lived through it all and survived. He had a courage to go back to his brother to ask for forgiveness. He could have been killed by Essau. But he was strong enough to go through all this, not so much because he was without fault, but because he had met with God at the lowest point in his life, at Bethel – in the house of God in the middle of nowhere, in the wilderness. Remember what Jesus said? "I will be with you to the end of time."

A: I WISH SHE WAS A BOY – REBECCA”S STORY: FIRST SUNDAY OF JULY

REBECCA”S ADVENTURE

Genesis 24, Psalm 46, Matthew 11:25-30

July 4, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

He was in his forties. She was in her teen”s. They were the most unlikely man and woman to get married. He was raised by a protective mother, a good man, but was a type who enjoyed to be alone than to hang around with guys, and easily influenced by other people. He was a kind of man an old fashioned mother would say, "I wish he was a girl." She, on the other hand, was raised by his big brother. She was generous and kind hearted, but independent, physically strong, highly spirited, adventurous, but also cunning and manipulative. She was a kind of woman an old fashioned father would say, "I wish she was a boy." Isaac and Rebecca had not even seen each other before they got married. But he fell in love with her right away when he saw her. This is a story of Rebecca, who became the mother of Jacob who later became known as Israel.

Our God is the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and of Jesus Christ born of Mary. The history of our religious tradition is about the faith of our fathers and mothers, a partnership of men and women. I wanted to remember Rebecca today partly because we have neglected stories of some amazing women in the Bible far too long. Rebecca was beautiful and friendly, but she was not a wallflower. She was generous and kind, but she was also strong in body and spirit, smart and cunning. She played more important role shaping the history of the Hebrew people than Isaac.

Abraham sent an emissary, whose name was Eliezer, to find a wife for Isaac in his home country. The first thing that Eliezer noticed about Rebecca was her generosity. She gave him water when asked, and watered his ten camels as well without being asked. This was no mean act of kindness. The well was deep, often hundreds of feet deep in those hot and dry countries, covered with a heavy stone slab which covered the top of the well to protect it from robbers and elements. To fetch water, they used a jug which was a heavy earthen ware attached to a long cord. It took strong muscles to draw water in those days. This is why the Bible termed the acts of offering water to strangers as extraordinary kindness. Rebecca”s own son Jacob married Rachel who also gave water to Jacob when he was a homeless stranger. Jesus gave high praises to a Samaritan woman who gave him a drink at the well. So when Rebecca gave water not only to Eliezer but also to his ten camels, he was impressed. She was kind to a total stranger. He was so impressed by her that he decided right there and then that this young woman was to be the bride for Isaac.

However, the next chapter of this episode is a surprise. It reveals that Rebecca was not only kind and physically strong, but also was she an adventurous, independent minded, and strong willed woman. When Eliezer proposed a marriage for Rebecca on behalf of Isaac, her mother and brother immediately consented. But they wanted to ask how Rebecca would feel about this. This was very unusual, because, four thousand years ago, women had no say on the matters of their marriages. Marriages were arranged often for business and political reasons and the brides” wishes were beside the point. So the fact that mother and brother felt obliged to ask Rebecca”s opinion showed a considerable degree of respect for Rebecca. It is easy to guess how she had been like growing up. With her intelligence and strong will, she must have earned high esteem from her adult members of the family even when she was very young.

The scene that followed is equally astonishing. Rebecca”s mother and brother wanted 10 days to prepare the young woman for the wedding. But Rebecca said, "Yes, I will marry Isaac, and I want go away right now." as though to say, "My mind”s made up. Why wait." She was quite ready to leave home right away to an unknown country and marry a man whom she never met, demonstrating an adventurous spirit bordering recklessness.

But the Bible does not hide the darker side of humans. It is the book about God, and no human person is described as perfect. Rebecca is not spared from brutal truthfulness of the Bible either. The darker side of her intelligence and determination surfaced as cunning and manipulative in a story for next Sunday. She didn”t hesitate deceiving her aging husband to get what she wanted.

Rebecca reminds me of the mother of a well known Canadian virtuoso pianist, John Kimura Parker. The baby John and his mother Keiko used to come to the Play Group – "Baby Band" as we called it at my pastoral charge in Vancouver. Before Keiko got married with John Sr., they had corresponded for two years. They decided to get married without ever meeting face to face. When the baby John came, she decided that the little John was going to be just like his uncle Ed, who was a famous piano teacher in Vancouver. She went to the University of B.C. to study music, got a music degree and a qualification as a piano teacher by the time the little John was five. So the poor boy had two piano teachers, uncle Ed and Mom at home. Now John Kimura Parker is a number one concert pianist in Canada today, and you can hear him on the CBC Radio often.

At any rate, here is a story of a woman who played an important role in shaping the history of Israel. Rebecca was so far away from the image of a nice woman – "sugar and spice and all that nice." But I believe it is time we appreciated tough women and the roles they play. When I was working for the Canadian Council of Churches, I had an opportunity briefly to work with Mother Teresa. Frankly speaking, I did not enjoy working with her. She was tough, uncompromising, and a skilful manipulater. Of course, that was why she achieved so much. She was tough. I think it is about time we appreciated tough women, just like we admire tough men. Jesus said, we must be like "crafty like a snake, and gentle like a dove." Thank God for Rebecca, who showed us how to be filled with tender love at the same time having a tough mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

B: MARK OF LEADERSHIP – FIRST SUNDAY OF JULY

THE MARK OF LEADERSHIP

II Samuel 5:1-5, Psalm 48, Mark 6:1-13

July 6, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

On the TV last week many times, we saw the Queen, Prince Charles, and Jiang Zemin – the President of China. They reminded me of today”s passages from II Samuel, the Biblical story was about choosing a king. Of those three, if we must, whom would we choose to be the head of our country? Jiang Zemin, Prince Charles, or Queen Elizabeth? Prince Charles may be a nice guy, but he has to sort out his personal life before he wins my respect. Jiang Zemin? I guess not. I don”t want anyone like him who would send in troops to the demonstrators, as he did in Tianamein Square. I suppose I will have to settle with the Queen Elizabeth, not because she is brilliant or charismatic, which she is not, but because she is a gracious and faithful servant of God.

In our religious tradition, we always have problems with anyone holding power over other people. Basically we believe that only God is above us, and do not accept unconditionally any human being exercising power over us. This is why in our faith tradition we have never accepted the notion of an absolute monarchy. Chinese emperors claimed that they were gods. Roman emperors did the same and claimed that they were perfect. The early Christians never accepted that any human could be a god. This was why they were persecuted and were often killed. We believe also that no human being has the right to claim absolute power, neither do we accept anyone is absolutely right. The idea that no one is above other people is firmly entrenched in our tradition.

Where, then, does the idea come from that a human being can be a king, and can rule other people? According to the Bible, it did not come from God. In fact, the prophet Samuel tells us that when Hebrew people wanted to have a king like other nations, God did not like the idea. But people insisted. They thought that strong leadership, in a form of something like a monarchy, was necessary to win the war. So Samuel chose in his life time two men and anointed them kings. The first one was Saul. Then was David.

We notice two important points in this process. First, only God has the absolute authority, and all other authorities are given to some chosen people in trust. Secondly, people must give a clear mandate to those chosen ones. In other words, human leadership is given conditionally. You see, in Hebrew tradition, before the introduction of a monarchy in their political system, the word "King" was reserved only for God . The Hebrews, throughout their history, always called God by a generic word for "Lord" or "king". Because it was prohibited to misuse the name of God, they dropped the vowels from the proper name of God and have symbolized it with three letters; YHW. Whenever they came to those three letters when reading the scriptures, they always said "adonai" which meant "Lord or King". In time, they forgot how the name of God was pronounced. Christians began to use the words like "Jehovah" and "Yahweh" for God”s name. But those names are purely educated guesses. The truth is that nobody knows for sure what the original proper name of the Hebrew God was. I am saying all this to show you how strongly the forbearers of our faith believed that there should be nobody above us except God, who alone is the King and the Lord in the true sense of the word.

Consequently, none of the Hebrew kings was an absolute monarch. The Hebrew king was bound by the dual mandate; a mandate from God and a mandate from people. After king Saul died, David did not assume his authority over all tribes of the Hebrew nation automatically. For seven years, he ruled only the Southern part of Palestine called Judea. Seeing how well his kingdom was run, people in the North, which was known as Israel, came to ask David to be their "shepherd". In other words, they wanted their king to be a caregiver just like a shepherd who looked after the sheep. At last, for the first time in many years, squabbling tribes of the Hebrews were united. And his reign lasted for forty years, thirty-three years of which was over the united kingdom.

David was not a perfect man, as we will discover later this month. He made many mistakes. Despite his faults, he never lost a keen sense of his duty to God and to people. He described God the King as a shepherd in Psalm 23rd. The poem was like a motto for him to remind himself of his own duties to the people. The king is like a shepherd. A true leader sees to it that all necessities of the people are provided, stays with his people at the time of darkness, even of death, and leads them with love and justice. You can see the progression of the image of the king from a mighty Lord strong in battles to a merciful and just caregiver – a shepherd. We should also look at our political leaders in the same light, and should challenge them when they fall short. When we see the pathetic scenes our politicians create in Ottawa, I wish that more leaders would take the Psalm 23 seriously to describe their duties.

So that was how David became the model king, the anointed one. The united kingdom of the Hebrews lasted only for two generations of kings; David”s son was the last king. After King Solomon died, the kingdom fell apart, never to regain its unity. So in the tortured history of the Jewish people, the return of a David figure has become the national dream. They have always waited for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah means in Hebrew the anointed one, the true king chosen by God. The Messiah would covenant with people to bring justice and peace. The Jews are still waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We, Christians, in the meantime, believe that the Messiah came in the person of Jesus. The Messiah has come for all peoples on the earth. This is why the word was translated into Greek, which was the universal language at the time like English is today, and became "Christ", signifying that God has sent the Messiah – the Christ to bring justice and peace to all peoples.

For us, Jesus the Christ is the true King – the Lord. Jesus came to us also as a lamb. We see yet again a progression of the image of leadership. First, God, the only king, was the law maker who knew completely what was right and wrong. Then, the king became the shepherd – a caregiver, who was just and merciful. Lastly, Jesus, the ultimate leader is described in the image of a lamb, the one who rules with sacrificial love. The lamb reminds of the animal which was killed to save the people at the time of escape from Egypt. Jesus, though he was God came to us by humbling himself to be like one of us. He suffered injustice and died on our behalf. This, for us, is the ultimate mark of leadership. Imagine telling that to Chretien and Bouchard?

 

 

A: REBECCA”S SONS: SECOND SUNDAY OF JULY

REBECCA”S SONS

Genesis 25-28, Psalm 119, Matthew 13:1-9

July 11, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

In 1945, the Allied Forces defeated Germany and Japan, and occupied those countries. I was a school boy in Tokyo. I remember the day when we had to cut out certain parts of our text books. We were told that some parts of them were untrue. Especially, we had to blotch out many parts of the history book. Nobody wants to see anyone talking about their ancestors as robbers and swindlers. So the Allied occupation forces wanted to erase all traces of the Japanese military propaganda about the Western countries.

Having gone through a radical alteration of history to make over a image of the past, I find the story of Rebecca and her two sons quite amazing, because it does not hide the shady characters of their own ancestors. Jacob was the first ancestor of a nation. And Essau was the ancestor of the Edomites. But the Bible speaks about Jacob as a fraud and a scam artist, and Essau a moron. Normally, a history book praises the virtues of the forefather like Jacob and his mother like Rebecca, and hide or minimize their dark side. But the Bible, the sacred history of the people of Israel, totally decimates Jacob”s respectability. If a history book makes people feel ashamed of the founder of the nation, it should be banned under the normal circumstances.

And Jacob, what a sleazeball he was! He was the kind of scam artist who rips off senior citizens and skips the town. And his mother was a partner in the crime! Yet, he became the founder of the nation, who changed his name to "Israel", which became the name of the people of a nation. Rebecca was then in her sixties. She loved Jacob. He was gentle, good looking with pale smooth skins, loved cooking, stayed home to look after mother”s sheep, and was clever like Mama Rebecca.

Essau, on the other hand, was everything Jacob was not. He was hairy, a ruddy-faced outdoor”s man. Poppa Isaac loved Essau, because he was a real man”s man Isaac wanted to be. Isaac was, by then, in his eighties. Essau”s idea of good time was to spend days in the wild hunting animals. Most people would prefer Essau to Jacob. He was big, bluff, easy-going, a man without deception. But he had no brain for some of the sophisticated aspects of civilized life like entitlement, inheritance, promises, or tradition. He had no patience to think what”s more important than his stomach. One day, he was desperately hungry. So, he gave away what he was entitled to as the elder son for mere a bowl of stew. What a sucker! A nice guy though. A bit simple like children. A child can not see the long term benefits, so does not wait. But Essau, he was a grown man. He should have known better.

Some people interpret this story of Essau and Jacob as a proof that God favoured the people of Israel over other peoples. They see it as a proof that mind is superior to passion. I don”t agree with this view. God”s judgement was on both Essau and Jacob. Jacob and Rebecca deceived the aging and blind Isaac, and seemed to have snatched the inheritance away from Essau. But what did Jacob gain from his deception? Nothing! In fact, he had to run for his life, away from Essau”s wrath, and had to live in a foreign country in servitude, for fourteen years. If Essau and Jacob gained anything from their experiences, they gained wisdom. They had to live with the consequences of their mistakes and wrong doings, and learned important lessons about God”s way. Both of them received God”s blessing equally in the end.

The Bible is a collection of records of people”s struggles as they tried to live according to the will of God. So the Bible had to be totally honest about people”s strength and weaknesses. If you are looking for perfect people in the Bible, you will be disappointed. Basically, it tells you how imperfect humans are. Instead, you can learn how just and loving God is. As we go on to read other stories in the history of Israel, you will find that the Bible tells you more about disgusting human behaviours. The Bible is full of stories of conflicts and intrigues, murders and rapes, polygamy, adulteries and even incests. In fact, it can easily be banned from the school libraries, if people read the whole Bible seriously. But they don”t. So, it collects dust safely on the book shelf. Those of us who read it, read it selectively. So we don”t run into the stories which raise embarrassing questions. But if we do, we will have hard time explaining some stories of the Bible to children.

I was once challenged by a Communist friend when I was still a student. He denounced the Bible as an unethical book and people in the Bible were disgusting. Of course, I tried very hard to defend the honour of the Bible. But to my embarrassment, he knew the Bible much better than I did. I knew only the parts I learned in the Sunday School and heard in the worship services. I did not know many passages, that described the evil and immoral deeds committed by many familiar Biblical characters. I didn”t realize that the Bible exposed the human conditions so frankly. As I grew older, I found the Bible embarrassingly closer to reality around us.

The Bible tells us how God has interacted with people. It is the book about God. It honestly described people as they were, good and evil. It also tells us how deeply and faithfully God love us, in spite of our repeated failures and unfaithfulness. It is the Holy Bible not because it has many stories of good people, but because it is a book that tells us how wonderful God was with people who had many shortcomings.

This is why we learn so much about God from a story like the stories of Isaac and Rebecca, Essau and Jacob, no matter how they were weak and deceitful. God loved them all so much that he never gave up on them. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to us, who died on the cross for us. Let us see what”s going to happen to Rebecca”s son Jacob, next Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A: TEACH US HOW TO PRAY – FOURTH SUNDAY OF JULY

TEACH US TO PRAY

Luke 11: 1 – 4

 

Prayer is like a familiar road you walk everyday. If it is not, it should be. You can walk on it with your eyes closed. You know what”s there. You feel comfortable and safe. It is like a conversation with someone you love. You are so familiar with it and do not notice it”s so precious. Like a glass of water. If conversations with someone you love becomes a chore, maybe there is some problem in your relationship.

Unfortunately, because we clatter our lives with too many things to do, many of us are forgetting how to listen. Consequently, prayer no longer is our daily practice. This is why it is good to know the Lord”s prayer. It is familiar to us and gives us an opening ritual, when we don”t know what words to pray. Rituals are useful to break the ice. You say, "Hello, how are you?" as an opening ritual when you meet someone. If you still don”t know what to talk about, you talk about weather. It is safe, familiar, and offers a way of entering into conversation. Lord”s Prayer is like that.

Prayer is a conversation with God. So it should be easy, like any conversation with someone you know. But it is difficult to start a conversation with someone you are not familiar with. When we are not used to thinking about our relationship with God, we need a ritual we are familiar and comfortable with. So Jesus taught us Lord”s Prayer. It is a good opening ritual to our prayer life.

 

Lord”s Prayer is made up of three parts: the first part is about God, the second about our physical needs, and the last part is about our spiritual needs.

We begin by invoking the name of God to make sure in our mind we are speaking to God. When he taught the disciples how to invoke the name of God, Jesus taught us to address God as "Father". It was an incredibly blasphemous teaching for the time. The Jewish religion does not allow any familiarity with God. God is so holy that nobody should even know the name nor should one depict God in any way. Allowing the disciples to call Jesus "Son of God", and addressing God as "Father" were the very acts of blasphemy which sent Jesus to his death on the cross. So what was he saying, when he taught others to address God as father, despite the objection of the authorities?

Jesus was trying to tell us that "yes, God is holy and almighty. But God is also a loving God", like the God of Hosea, who is like a man pathetically in love with his unfaithful wife and goes after her to a brothel, while others laughed at him. He wanted to tell us that our relationship with God can be of the most intimate kind. This is why he called God father. Jesus must have had a good and loving father in Joseph. If someone does not have a good father, God can be some other loving person like a mother. Didn”t he also use other images like friend, brother, teacher? God can be compared to whoever one feels comfortable and intimate with, and, who can also command respect. I like the way French people address God. They use "tu" just as they would use it for a family member. We should be able to feel comfortable being with God, like being with your father, a mother, a spouse, a good friend. That”s why in the Lord”s Prayer we call God, "Father" even though our language fails from time to time to mean what we want to mean.

We believe also, however, that God is almighty, just and wise. So the best thing that could happen is to make the rule of God reality. Wouldn”t it be wonderful if a loving and merciful figure also has absolute authority and power to rule in our universe? This is why we pray that God”s will be done. And that the world will be his kingdom.

Now about the petition asking for bread : We are not always comfortable when we ask for something we really want or need, because those things are often too intimate. I don”t think many of us can go up to a stranger and ask, "Give me food." When we are intimate with someone who seems to know everything we need, we feel a little more comfortable to ask even for something that may be a little bit too personal. Still we feel a little shy but we can do it if that person is intimate. The god of the Jewish and the Muslim people knows everything before we ask, so they don”t ask. They simply ask that the God”s will be done. Yes, God of Jesus Christ also knows everything we need, but our relation with God is more intimate, he loves us. So we are not shy to ask anything, even though we know we ask not-very-wise things sometime.

We parents know our children”s need, most of the time. But it would be a sad day when our children feel too intimidated to ask for something they want. Our relationship is not only that of supply on demand. Demands and requests form a part of our relationship. They reassure us of our intimate relationship. We can reassure each other of our affection and love, by asking each other for what we really need. It can be another way of saying "I love you." So we say, "Give us our daily food." to reassure ourselves of our intimate relationship with God.

The last two requests in the Lord”s Prayer have to do with our spiritual life: with forgiveness and avoiding evil. And they both have to do with love or lack thereof.

The question of forgiveness here can not be understood unless one speaks about it in the context of a relationship of love. Forgive others? We do that all the time amongst loved ones. Relationships do not work, unless there is forgiveness. Loving people forgive and give each other all the time. Being forgiven and accepted by God, as we accept each other, is our most fundamental spiritual need.

The last request has to do with avoiding evil. There are some people who tell you that there is no evil. They say, "There can be a temporary laspe that makes people to commit evil. But there is no real evil in the world." I, for one, don”t buy that. There may not be evil people by nature. But people can be possessed by evil, and commit horrendous evil acts. Murders, sexual assaults, violence, and acts of callous neglects do happen. We hear about them in the news. And evil, again, has to do with love; it is opposite of love. We find repeatedly teaching of Jesus saying that the fundamental basis of our spiritual life is love. And the opposition to love is the source of evil.

You see, love motivates us to give to others. So opposite of love is to rob others for selfish reasons. In other words, without love you take others as your means to achieve selfish goals. Utter disrespect of other people”s interest is the result of lack of love. That can range from a simple act of omission by ignoring poverty in our society to the extreme case of murders and holocaust.

We want to pray very hard to keep such evil far away from us. And the best way for us to work on it from our side is to keep praying that we be loving always.

A: HOW TO FEED MILLIONS WITH $37 – FIRST SUNDAY OF AUGUST

HOW TO FEED MILLIONS WITH $37

Matthew 14 : 13 – 21

August 4, 1996, by Tad Mitsui

The story of feeding of thousands in the Gospel is a celebration of the spirit of sharing. Where there is willingness to share, many impossible things become possible. The story is not so much a demonstration of the magical power of Jesus. If it should be a demonstration of anybody”s power, it is of the power that all of us possess – the willingness to give up whatever we have because we care for others.

When the feeding of thousands occurred, Jesus was sorrowfully remembering another banquet. It was only a few days before at a banquet at the court of King Herod, where the king beheaded John the Baptist only to please the King”s illicit mistress, his brother”s wife Herodia. John”s relentless condemnation of corruptions in king”s court was a real pain in the neck for many members of the royal family. So the prophet”s life was sacrificed, and John”s head was presented on a silver platter as a birthday present to Herodias. A banquet can be a place of intrigue and machination, greed and other iniquities, no matter how good the food is. Sometimes when a dinner party is intended to serve not very honourable purpose, we may have to say "No" to the invitation.

I remember the time when Archbishop Ted Scott refused to attend a banquet provided by a powerful bishop of another denomination. Archbishop Scott was the President of the Canadian Council of Churches which I was working for at the time. The dinner was a big event of Toronto high society. The list of the invited guests was a "Who”s Who" of Canada. It included cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister, the Premier of the Province, presidents of big corporations, and media stars. It was a boastful show of its bishop”s influence in Toronto society. Ted Scott”s refusal to attend it created a scandal. He was accused of being a spoiled sport, and became a social pariah. The Archbishop did not feel that he could enjoy such an event costing tens of thousands of dollars, in the midst of poverty during the recession.

Jesus”s idea of a dinner was a occasion for caring and loving, a time to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones. It did not have to be rich or plentiful. His idea of a dinner had love as its main course, and food as condiments. I once preached in a remote village in the mountains of Lesotho in Africa. I baptized some 30 babies and conducted communion, because ministers rarely went there. It was a hot scorching summer day. Harvests were poor the year before, and people were so hungry that they could not wait for their crops to ripen; they were eating green unripe crops. Women gave me a few green peaches for lunch, while the congregation feasted on corn on cobs the size of a thumb, and a small cakes of cold cooked corn-meal only the size of a cookie: not much to call dinner. It was a banquet to celebrate the initiation of many babies into the community. We danced and sang afterwards. As I headed home – a couple of hours” horseback ride – I nearly fainted of hunger. My body was spoiled by too much food and was not used to endure an empty stomach so long, as my African friends could. But it was a real joyful banquet. When we can share everything, and can trust the affection and love of your friends and neighbours, we have happiness no royal dinner can provide.

People were eager to hear what Jesus had to say. Thousands followed him all the time. When evening came one day, disciples became concerned about their physical needs. So they asked Jesus to send them home. Do not think that the disciples were callous in trying to avoid responsibility to feed the multitudes. They weren”t. They were exercising common sense. "It”s supper time, Teacher. You stop preaching, and let them go home. You have to think about their physical needs, too." But Jesus knew that they would not go away. Jesus knew that it was not the kind of crowd who would go away merely because they were hungry. After hearing about the cruel death of his cousin John the Baptist, the grief stricken Jesus had wanted to be alone and pray. He took a boat to the lake to escape the crowd. But when he and the disciples arrived on the other side, the crowd was already waiting for him. They did not leave Jesus alone. They were hungry for spiritual nourishment. Spiritually hungry people are caring people. And the caring people can achieve wonders.

When he was asked if it was possible to feed the crowd, the ever sensible Philip responded reminding Jesus gently that there was no such money to feed thousands. "Get real, Teacher!" was his message. There were so many people. Besides, the place was so far away from any town where to buy food. "Send them home, Master. They have to eat, too." But Andrew found a boy who offered what food he had on him. The boy must have overheard the conversation between Jesus and Philip. "Five loaves of bread and two fish." "Poor kid. Nice kid though, he does not know his offer is no help at all." But Jesus sat people down on the grass, so the story goes, blessed the food, and fed everybody until they were satisfied. There were even left-overs.

There are at least two theories to understand this story. One school of thought insists that Jesus performed a miracle multiplying five loaves and two fish ten thousand times, as the Son of God could do things which were impossible for ordinary mortals. But another interpretation is more rational. It speculates that everybody began to offer whatever food there was in their possession. They were touched by the boy”s willingness to share what little he had. But I think that this kind of discussion about what actually happened is missing the whole point of the message of the Bible.

As far as I am concerned, either case is possible. It does not matter. The whole point of the story is to celebrate the community of caring and sharing. Wonderful things happen when people are willing to share no matter how big or small their contributions are. I worked in Geneva, Switzerland during the 80”s coordinating famine relief operations in Africa. It was, as some of you surely remember, the worst famine that ever happened in history. It probably killed over a million people. All the major churches of the world got together and formed a joint program to raise funds and coordinate the relief work. We set a target of $100 million, as much as anything for the shock value of hearing the demand for such a large sum of money. We never thought we could ever reach such a big target. But we hoped that it would shock people into recognizing the seriousness of the tragedy. By the time my contract ended in 1987, the total amount raised surpassed $500 million. It looked like a miracle.

Of course, there were big donors who donated many trucks or ship-loads of grains, including our own United and Presbyterian churches and Canadian government. But what I remember still vividly are the likes of $37 coming from a senior woman living in a nursing home in Beamsville, Ont. and designated it for a helicopter in Mozambique. The most of the donations were those small coins from those who could hardly afford to give those donations. They were often given through the church mission fund. This was also during the time of the last recession when mortgage rates hit 23%. It was a terrible time economically. I gained fresh faith in the goodness of people during those hectic days in Africa. Where people are willing to sacrifice because they care about other people, miracles can still happen.

One could easily think that the Ontario senior was naive in giving her precious $37 out of her pension – she could hardly afford it and $37 would be of almost no help to purchase a helicopter. But she meant well; she was concerned about the starving people in Mozambique. That kind of caring counts, just like five loaves and two fish. Andrew laughed at the boy. But Jesus didn”t. He knew that such love and willingness to give out of concern for others would perform wonders.

On the night before he died on the cross, he broke bread, divided it and gave it to the disciples saying, "Take, eat, this is my body broken for you." I don”t believes that the bread we eat at the communion is a piece of Jesus” flesh. The bread we eat at the Communion comes from someone”s oven or Marche Richelieu. There is no miracle. The miracle is Jesus” ultimate sharing of his life. It does not matter if Jesus miraculously multiplied the five loaves into ten thousand loaves or something else happened. The real meaning of the story of the feeding of thousands is the miracle of caring and sharing.