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.

C: MERCY AND WORMWOOD – FIRST SUNDAY OF OCTOBER

MERCY AND WORMWOOD

Lamentation 3:19-26

October 4, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

Instead of "the wormwood and the gall", which I just read, another translation of the Bible, the passage from the book of Lamentations, chapter 3 verse 19 had "the wormwood and poison". The difference surprised me because the one I read reminds me of how, when I was a child, my mother used to give me a tiny bit of black powder for indigestion. It was shavings from what was supposed to be "bear”s gallbladder", a dry black ball about the size of a golf ball. It was bitter. I hated it. "The thought of my affliction and homelessness is the wormwood and the gall." I looked it up in a book on herbal medicine, and sure enough, it says that a gall bladder produces bile which is good for breaking up hard-to-digest fat in the stomach. I am not sure if it was really a bear”s gallbladder that my mother gave me, but it sure was expensive medicine. There were stories of people selling pieces of property in order to buy "bear”s gallbladder" many years ago. So I looked up "wormwood" also in the book on herbal medicine. It says that dried wormwood has been used as a traditional remedy for indigestion. It is also very bitter. Bitterness seems to help digest food: an interesting idea, isn”t it? And one that gives the passage from Lamentations a very different meaning.

The Book of Lamentations is a book of mourning. The author was bitter about the demise of the Jewish nation, which was defeated by the Babylonian army. He spoke about the desolation of Jerusalem. He spoke about the city of Jerusalem as though it was once a proud princess who completely lost her former glory and dignity. She had had many admirers but now none of them could comfort her. Her friends turned out to be sellouts to the enemy. Even her own children deserted her. She was not just a princess of a defeated kingdom but became a slave of the former enemies. It is a book full of bitterness. Yet in the midst of all this grieving, the author remembers God”s mercy. He was reminding himself that there still was hope. He says "the thought of my affliction and my homelessness is the wormwood and the gall. God”s mercies are new every morning." It is bitter, but it is not poison. Instead, it is powerful medicine. And he sees plenty of hopeful signs in the midst of desolation and despair.

There are two periods in the history of the Jewish nation when they made a great leap forward in their spiritual journey. They spent forty excruciatingly difficult years in the desert after the liberation from slavery in Egypt. It was during those years, they were given the basic laws from God, and learned to live under the rule of law. They learned to live like a nation of decent human beings, and not like animals in the desert. That was how they survived as people. The second most important period was the 150 years when the leaders of the nation spent in captivity in Babylon. This period began with the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem, which the book of Lamentations was mourning about. It was a bitter experience. All the political and spiritual leaders, in fact anyone who could read, were expelled from their homeland and forced to live in Babylon. There, they were forbidden to use their language and were prohibited to practice their religion. The intention was to destroy the Jewish nation. When the spiritual tradition of the nation is lost, the nation loses its identity; the Babylonians knew that. But they didn”t succeed. The Jews did not lose their religion. They managed to keep the language through the Bible. In fact, it was during this period, the Jews collected the books on the laws of Moses, the Prophets, and other literature like poems, stories, and proverbs. Eventually they were bound together and became the Hebrew Bible – the present day Old Testament. The intention of the Babylonian captors completely failed. When the children of the captive Jews were allowed to return to Palestine, one of the teachers named Ezra took the collection of the Books and went back to Jerusalem. The Book, the Biblos in Greek, became the foundation of the faith of the Jewish nation. It was also the only Bible available to the early Christians for about four hundred years until the New testament was authorized as a part of the Bible by the Church. The Babylonian captivity was bitter medicine, but it was an effective medicine. It brought health back to the people and made them survive and thrive.

The God of the Bible is not one to praise the virtue of suffering. God does not want us to suffer. However, God does not stop it either. Often, suffering is caused by human failures and sin. God”s greatest gift to humans is freedom. So if humans choose the path of a sinful life, God does not stop them. God does not cause suffering but we do; for ourselves and for others. Suffering comes to everyone, just like rain falls on good people and bad people alike. The difference is: the faithful people never lose sight of the God”s mercy even in the midst of suffering, and find hope beyond. In other words, the faithful find strength to go through the difficulties, and are always able to praise God for his mercies at the end.

This is why the author of the Lamentations could sing the praises of God even in the midst of mourning the loss of a nation and the desolation of his beloved city. "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning." When I look at myself in the mirror in the morning, I see signs of my aging process. But perhaps, instead of mourning the loss of youth, I should say to myself "Tad, you look wiser today. Thank you, God." I should learn to love myself anew everyday, and gain strength to face a new chapter of my life.

It”s easy to feel bitterness over losses in our lives – whether that”s youth, or health, or glory. It is a very human response. But remember, bitterness can also be medicine for renewal. Instead of just mourning the loss and dwelling in bitterness, isn”t it also time to remember how merciful God has been throughout the good days and how sweet those days were? Then we realize that his love and mercy are new every morning, even today. We swallow our medicine, and thank God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

C: A DITCH CUTS OFF TWO WAY STREET – FOURTH SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

A DITCH CUTS OFF A TWO WAY STREET

Luke 16 : 19 – 31, Amos 6 : 1a, 4 – 7, Psalm 146

When I was living in Southern Africa, the most ridiculous act of the Apartheid Government I saw was the banning of a movie "Black Beauty". Because they were paranoid about the mixing of races, they built many barriers to keep races from each other. As the result, the ignorance and fear of the white people about other races became quite pathological. Some people could not accept a notion of black being beautiful. Even a nice children”s story about a beautiful black horse sounded subversive to some people. What a pity. If we build a barrier or dig a ditch between people, we miss the richness of God” creation in other people.

Jesus” parable about a rich man and Lazarus carries the same message. If you cut off a relationship, you cut it off both ways. Not only they can not come to you, but also can you not go to them. And where there are no comings and goings between people, mutual ignorance and fear of each other are bound to separate people even further.

 

All of us are mutually dependent on others. Even if you think you can ignore somebody, the same person may turn out to be indispensable in your life later. We all change. In the case of today”s Gospel reading, the rich man died and discovered that in the afterlife the poor beggar Lazarus was in a comfortable position, while the rich man himself was suffering desperately. The roles had been switched. The rich man suddenly needed Lazarus” help desperately. But Lazarus could not help him. This sort of reversal of roles happens very often in this life.

There was once a snowstorm in the mountains of Lesotho. Yes, there is snow in Africa, too. Especially in Lesotho, since it is a mountainous country, with an altitude of 6,000 feet to 11,000 feet above sea level. Anyhow, a group white women tourists visiting from South Africa were stranded in the snow. Their jeep got stuck on a mountain road. They had no food, no water, no warm clothes. They nearly froze to death. The white South African tourists usually came into a black country like Lesotho, only for a day. They could not imagine that they could be safe staying over night in Lesotho. But they were rescued by African villagers who warmly welcomed them into their village, inviting them to the homes, feeding them for a week until they could dig out the car. Those villagers are much poorer than the average Europeans or North Americans, many times poorer. But sharing is part of their culture. They always are prepared with food and other things for unexpected guests.

However, it was interesting to read how the South African newspapers reported this episode. The story was told as an amazing event. But for Africans, there was nothing extraordinary about it. It happens all the time, people helping people in trouble. You don”t leave a stalled car alone in a snowstorm on an isolated country road without finding out if everything is OK in Africa or in Canada for that matter. But when you shut out other people from your life, they become inaccessible to you. Not only you do not think of helping others, but also you do not think that anyone can help you. It was good that those women had enough sense to accept the normal kindness of the local people despite the racial bias they had acquired as they grew up in South Africa. If they had followed their cultural bias and refused the hospitality out of fear, they could have died.

The point of this story about Lazarus and a rich man was not about the negative aspect of wealth as such. The wealth of the rich man in this story is a metaphor for the arrogance that deceives one into thinking that one can afford to ignore other people. But the patriarch Abraham, if we are to recall the stories about him in the Old Testament, was an enormously rich man. And in this story, Abraham is depicted as a protector of the poor man Lazarus. So the wealth itself is neutral. The real issue is whether wealth makes you arrogant and apathetic or more compassionate and humane.

Once you allow your wealth to fool you into believing that you are OK under any circumstance because you are rich, then you are in trouble. Jesus in another parable spoke about a farmer who had a bumper crop. The farmer said to himself, "My three warehouses are full. I am rich. Now I can eat and drink and be merry." And God said to him, "You, fool! Tomorrow you may die." Money can not buy everything. The worst thing that wealth can do is to cut off your relationship with other human beings. Unfortunately wealth often does that, because of our preoccupation in material wealth and of our neglect of other human values, like affection, friendship, and yearning for knowledge. The rich man did not give a damn about Lazarus, even though he saw the poor man everyday at his gate. His total indifference was so callous that the only thing Jesus could compare it to was a deep chasm the rich man dug by being apathetic to Lazarus” conditions. Consequently the rich man could not go to the other side, nor could anyone come across to save him.

Jesus was saying that the chasm of apathy and arrogance is so deep and wide that even if a dead person comes back to life to warn about the danger of being indifferent to other people”s plight, the message would fall on deaf ears. Those who would dig ditches between them and other human beings are so blinded and deafened that they will not see or hear any warning.

We are observing world-wide communion this morning. It is a symbolic dinner table set by Jesus Christ, to which everyone who believes in him is invited. There is no barrier or chasm before the table prepared by Jesus. The United Church of Canada believes in open communion. That is to say, it is only Christ who invites the dinner guests, and we humans have no right to refuse anyone so long as this person believes in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and believes that he/she is invited. So, come with the rest of the world to the table of the Lord . And let us never cut ourselves off from the rest of creation.

A: COMMANDMENTS AS THE MEANS OF GRACE – FIRST SUNDAY OF OCTOBER

COMMANDMENTS AS THE MEANS OF GRACE

Exodus 20, Psalm 19, Matthew 21:33-46

October 3, 1999 by Tad Mitsui

 A boy went off the trail and got lost because he did not obey the first bush commandment, "Thou shalt not go into the woods alone." When he was found after two days and two nights, he was covered with thousands of mosquito bites, dehydrated, starving, and nearly delirious. He learned the price of disobeying the rules in a very hard way. He nearly lost his life.

Though rules and regulations exist for our own good, they have a bad name – "boring". Many people believe that it is more fun to break a law than to obey it. "Don”t get caught." is a slogan more people seem to believe in than those who obey the laws. The laws are normally the expression of God”s concern for us. But they don”t fully appreciate that the laws are intended for their safety and well-being. Ten Commandments were given to people, as the means for God to express his concern for people. But we don”t appreciate them as such. We think that the laws restrict our freedom and tie us down to a boring life. Therefore, many people think that the religion is a whole bunch of "Thou shalt not." So they think that religion is boring and takes fun out of life.

We must admit that, as soon as we see a rule, our first impulse is to break it. A story has it that one day a town council erected a sign with the inscription, "It is forbidden to throw stones at this sign." Guess what happened. Within a week, the sign became illegible because so many people threw stones at it. This story tells us about our ambivalent relation with the law. Nobody thinks that laws are bad. In fact, we will probably be very upset if people break the laws openly and get away with it. But why then do we cheat the laws – customs regulations, tax laws, and traffic laws, etc? I don”t think that there are many people who have never broken any of the Ten Commandments. Governments are worst offenders of the Ten Commandments. Paul described this problem in his letter to the Romans, "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. If the law does not say "Thou shall not be envious.", I would not have known what envy is."

This is a unique problem for human beings. Animals can do only what nature tells them to do. They do not have freedom to choose, so they can only follow the laws of nature. They know no other way, so they do not need rules. Whereas humans are free. So we have options. We have knowledge of what is good for us. But we do have freedom to obey the law as well as to break it. God”s laws are the means of his grace. The knowledge of what is good for our well-being is revealed to us in a form of the commandments – the laws of God. So we have freedom to choose to live well, if we decide to follow the commandments. Freedom is a precious gift. It means that God respects us, and recognizes our dignity as independent individuals.

But we can choose to disobey the laws too. We can exercise our God given freedom by choosing what is not good for us. If we don”t have this option, we are not truly free. So the important question is; what is it that make us want to choose the God”s way, freely. What does it make what we only know in the head, into something we really want to do from our heart? What does it make the mere knowledge of what is good into heartfelt desires? What does it change the laws into the means of grace? The Bible says it is love that makes what is in the head into a matter of heart. Jesus said that love is the fulfilment of all the laws. Love makes the laws work. But without love, the law can be a temptation to break it, as Paul put it.

I can not name myself an excellent driver. But when I was young, I was worse. I was reckless. What changed me, at least into a more careful driver was the arrival of a child in my life. Though I am far from being an excellent driver even now, following the traffic laws began to have a whole different meaning with my child in the car. A concern for the safety of the child made me realize that the traffic laws were good things. And I began to hope that all drivers obey the law for the safety of my loved one. It is love that makes sense out of the laws. It is love that make you want to obey God”s commandments.

We are celebrating the Lord”s Supper today. It is a memorial of our Lord”s death. We remember that God who gave us the laws is the same God who forgave those who crucified Jesus on the cross. God commands and forgives, because he loves us. As we partake the symbolic meal to remember the love of God, let us also remember that it was the same God who loves us through the commandments. Remembering his love, let us appreciate the God”s way and give our best to live accordingly.

 

 

 

B: DOES GOD ALLOW SICKNESS – FIRST SUNDAY OF OCTOBER

DOES GOD ALLOW SICKNESS?

Job 1:1, 2:1-10, Psalm 95, Mark 10:13-16

October 5, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

When you are sick, often you find that emotional questions trouble you more than the question of what ails you. Anxiety, guilt and damaged self-esteem is more serious than the actual sickness. I have recurrent migraine headaches. When I have a migraine, I feel useless and guilty staying in bed for a whole day. These feelings are worse than the headache itself. When we are seriously ill, we suffer as much from what illness does to our self image and sense of security as from what is does to our bodies. We often ask the meaning and reason for our sickness. I don”t think other animals ask such a question. When you ask "why", you are asking spiritual questions. The book of Job asks why we suffer.

The book of Job belongs to a category of old Hebrew scriptures that are called "Writings". Books like Job, Jonah, Ruth, Esther and Psalms, which belong to this category, are stories and poems written by people, who were seeking God”s plans in their lives. Because of their origins, it is OK for us to appreciate their good points, challenge some others, and sometimes say, "I don”t agree." The author of Job teaches us many important lessons about faith. But in the end, I, for one, don”t agree with his conclusions. I rather take the position taken by Jesus Christ, which is different from Job”s.

You see, the author of Job interpreted life as a stage where a contest between God and Satan took place. The story has it that God was proud of faithful Job. But Satan challenged God by saying, "Job is faithful to you because he is happily married, has good and hard working children, and is wealthy and healthy. But if you take away those good things from him, he will betray you." So they had a contest. God allowed Satan to take away the good things, one by one. After losing everything, Job contracted an ugly disease. His body was covered with boils and scabs. His wife thought that her husband was a fool, and told him it would be better to "curse God and die." But Job remained faithful to God. So God won the contest with Satan.

I don”t agree with the suggestion of this book because I don”t believe God, who loves us, will ever treat a person like a football in a game with Satan. God, who became like one of us and suffered for us, would never treat us like a pawn, a chessman, or a football. I wonder if the presence of Satan in this book is really the presence of our own self-doubt and frustrations with sicknesses that limit our energies and plans. Looked at in this way the contest that the book of Job teaches us about is not a contest between good and evil but a contest between our self-doubts and our faith in God”s love for us. The book makes clear that Job, who in the end accepted his suffering as the will of God, did not give up easily. He kept demanding an answer, pointing his finger at God and saying, "I did not do anything wrong. I never betrayed you. Yet you make me suffer so much. Why? Why? Why?" I do admire Job”s determination in asking questions. He never gave up, while many of us just give up and fall like a dead leaf. Job teaches us about the uniqueness of being a human. We ask, "why?" Animals don”t ask such questions. They just take whatever comes. Job”s refusal to stop asking why, shows his continued faith in a God who will respond despite all his other losses, Job did not lose his self-esteem and sense of being a valued child of God.

Buddhist philosophy stands in marked contrast to the lessons we might learn from the book of Job. Buddhism is based on the idea of "giving up" as the best way to solve of life”s problems. The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Siddhartha, knew that life was full of misery and suffering. As a wandering monk he searched for a solution to misery and suffering. After many years of search, he reached the conclusion that all sufferings came from desire. All suffering would disappear when we were free from all cravings. In other words, we must not expect anything from life and accept whatever comes to us as fate. Then we will no longer suffer. This is a philosophy that teaches people to accept suffering without asking questions. Job would make an bad Buddhist.

To accept suffering without asking questions can lead to a kind of fatalism that is damaging to ourselves and to others. To not ask why, means we may fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as our fault. Guilt is an enormous barrier to healing. To view our sickness fatalistically can also lead to discrimination against others. This is how our society justifies discrimination against mentally ill people, people with AIDS, and people with the kinds of sickness that generate feelings of disgust. We think that there is something wrong with them and they got what they deserve.

People in the Bible had a similarly fatalistic attitude towards the sick: they thought that lepers and mentally sick people were cursed by God. They made those sufferers outcast of society. This is why when Jesus touched and healed the sick people – those untouchable, it was a shocking incident. He refused to accept suffering as unchangeable. His miracles were the expressions of his concern towards people who were suffering. They were also a response to people who actively sought his help. Like Job who continued to demand an explanation from God, these people believed that their suffering was not the end of the story. From this, it is clear that God does not want anyone to suffer. He cares about us when we suffer. He expects us to have the same attitude towards sick people as Jesus did.

I can not tell you why God allows sickness. The Bible does not give a clear answer. But what is clear is that God does not expects us to accept suffering fatalistically – either the suffering of others or our own.

The book of Job reminds us that to question is to be human. It also teaches us that we must continue to believe that there is a God who will respond even if it is a response that we are not comfortable with. God does not play games with us. As Christians we have faith in a God who reaches out to us in our suffering. Believing this, not just patiently but persistently, means we may just hang in long enough for a miracle to happen.

 

 

 

C: BUYING LAND BEFORE A WAR – FOURTH SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

BUYING LAND BEFORE A WAR

Jeremiah 32:1-3,6-15, Psalm 91, Luke 16:19-31

September 27, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

Katharine White was a long time Gardening columnist for the New Yorker magazine. When she sent for the spring bulbs from the catalogue for the last time, she knew that she would never see them grow. Her husband wrote about her planting spring bulbs in the last autumn of her life before she died of cancer. He observed "her studied absorbtion in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her own detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection."

Today”s story of Jeremiah tells us about the same kind of faith in the future. Jeremiah bought a piece of land and hid the title deed in a stone jar, just before Jerusalem fell into the hand of the enemy troops, and was totally destroyed. Jeremiah knew that he would never take possession of the land. Jeremiah is not known for his optimism. In fact, he was a prophet of doom and gloom. He constantly accused the king and the people of Israel for their lack of faith in God and their immoral life style. He had warned that the result would be a total destruction of the nation. He had predicted the defeat of the Judean kingdom by the Babylonian empire. Soon enough, Jerusalem was besieged by the enemy troops. The king was annoyed and angry with Jeremiah and put him into prison. Yet Jeremiah was telling the truth. But nobody likes to hear the truth if it is a bad news. So what was the idea of buying a piece of property in a city which was about to be destroyed and occupied by the enemy? This story is telling us that the people with faith in God never lose hope, even though the immediate future does not look bright.

However, how can anyone be as optimistic as Jeremiah was, while they are angry with a corrupt world? Some people who get angry with the unjust and immoral world, act on their anger causing terrible destruction. We see them in Israel and Palestine. We saw them in Unabomber, or in Kansas City. We saw them in Northern Ireland, and recently in Kenya, and Tanzania. They are angry with the people who treat them unjustly or do not obey their God. They are not mere criminals. They are worse than criminals, because they are convinced that they are doing the right thing. They commit those terrible acts out of conviction, often ready to sacrifice their own lives for what they believe to be right. What separates those terrorists from the angry Prophets like Jeremiah is faith in a loving and merciful God. Jeremiah was angry with the corruption and knew that the future of the country was bleak, and yet he bought a piece of land. He never lost hope. He had faith in the future of his people, because he believed in the love of God.

When your belief in moral living is based on the laws of a loving God, your deeds are always motivated by love and never by hatred. Love does not diminish even in anger. There is nothing wrong with being angry, so long as love is the cause of anger. But when anger drives you to hateful and destructive acts, it shows that you don”t see any future. There is no love in your anger. Love is always hopeful, because love always anticipates the future. Love knows that there will be spring and summer beyond the coldness and darkness of winter.

There is nothing wrong with being angry with an unjust and immoral world. It is too bad that righteous anger is considered to be out of fashion. Many people in the church think that antagonizing people by speaking about the evilness of the world is not a helpful thing to do these days. They think that the church must be attractive. We have to offer nice music and a good time, to make people think that the church is a nice place to go. I don”t entirely disagree with this way of thinking. The church must give comfort to people and encourage people with strength to live on in this difficult world. But we must also remember that our religion has another important spiritual tradition. It is the tradition of the Prophets. Prophets say things that are right even though they may annoy people and make them feel uncomfortable.

Let me tell you a story. Old Michael was in his death bed. A priest came to give him the last rites. "Well, Michael," said the priest, "Are you ready to renounce the devil and make peace with your Creator?" "Yes, Father," answered Michael, "I am prepared to make peace with God. But as for the devil, I really am not in a position to antagonize anybody." We must know that in our religion, you can not have it both ways.

When we see injustice done to people or corruption in high places, we must be angry. It is worrisome when we see people forgetting spiritual values and pursuing pleasures as the only goal of life. When a nation loses spiritual values and moral principles, it is doomed. We must keep on speaking about justice no matter how unpopular that will make us. But in the mean time, we must remember that God who demands justice is also a merciful God who forgives and gives us a second chance. Therefore, we speak about righteousness out of love, not out of hatred. Love is always hopeful and anticipates the future.

One person who contributed more than many other people to bring justice into the world is Martin Luther King. He was once asked what he would do if the world ended the next day. He answered, "I will plant a tree." People like Jeremiah and Martin Luther King teach us that there is always hope even in an evil world, because God is good and merciful. I want to be hopeful as they are.

 

 

 

 

A: WITHOUT LIGHT, THERE IS NO SHADOW – THIRD SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

WITHOUT LIGHT, THERE IS NO SHADOW

Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114 , Matthew 18:21&22

September 15, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Every new experience of life is a process of growth. And we know that a ceratin amount of pain is unavoidable in a process of growth. You can complain about it, or you can celebrate it. As soon as God led the people of Israel out of slavery and out of Egypt where they lived for nearly four hundred years, they ran into hardship and some scary experiences they did not anticipate. They complained about them bitterly and wanted to go back to become slaves again, because at least it was the place they knew.

As the story goes, calamities befell the Egyptians, one after another. The Egyptians did not blame God but blamed the Hebrews for their many misfortunes. The king wanted them to go as soon as possible. But Moses knew that the king would change his mind. He had done it many times before. So the Hebrews left Egypt in a hurry. According to the Bible, God instructed them not to wait for bread dough to rise before they baked it. They were told not to gut the animals before they roasted them. There was no time to waste. They ate the dinner without sitting at the table, standing, already dressed to travel. They left in a hurry.

They were happy as they started out. They were free! No more hard labour in the hot sun, mixing mud, moulding it and baking bricks, day after day. They were no longer other people”s slaves. They were free and independent human beings. But as soon as they got out of the city, they found themselves in the desert. It was not just hot sand and prickly bushes, but it was also a long stretch of hard rocks with sharp edges, or exhausting process of trudging up and down of the sand dunes. Also, there were many hungry predatory animals. Worse still, Moses didn”t tell them clearly which way they should be going. At that point, he didn”t know that either. It was a test of trust in God. They were so busy getting out of Egypt, they didn”t have time to think about those details. So reality set in as they inched forward with heavy loads on their backs. It was hot and dry. "How long do we have to keep walking? We have no more jobs. How are we going to make a living? Where does our next meal come from?" Many troubling questions began to bother them. You would do that when your trust in God wanes.

Then they came to a swamp with reed bushes. The water looked deep. Also there was another problem on the horizon. The king had changed his mind again. He wanted slaves back. No Egyptian would do such a dirty job as cheaply as the Jews used to do. They were important for the country”s economy. So he sent his army to bring the slaves back. They were ordered to kill them if they refused to return. There was dust rising on the horizon. The Egyptian army! Now what? Speak about the devil and the deep blue sea: They were in between. So now they were really complaining to Moses. "Just look at the mess you got us into. In Egypt, we had work, enough food at least and place to live. But here, we have none of them. And now we are either going to be killed by the soldiers or drown in the sea." Notice; they blamed Moses, not God. It is always easier to blame some one nearby than to look at a larger picture like God”s plan.

When we first think about something new, it always seems so attractive and exciting. In our excitement, it”s easy to overlook that what is new is also unknown and therefore can be frightening once you actually face it. Where there is light, there must be a shadow. Once we step into a new phase of life, we suddenly realize that we don”t know anything about the new territory. It is scary to realize this. It is like crossing of a sea. There is no bridge on which to go back. We seem suddenly to be surrounded by all sort of dangers. The real test for an adult who desires to be free and independent is how to face those problems.

You can avoid them, complain about them, or ignore them as though they don”t exist. But that means you have decided to not grow up. One can never learn to live by avoiding your problems. One can never learn to swim without getting wet. We must know that unresolved problems always seem an impossible challenge. Two summers ago, we discovered water slides at a park in the Laurentiens. We enjoyed the thrill of going down those steep and twisting slides. It must be like learning to ski down hill, which I have not done yet. But I have yet to go down the steepest straight down slide. We”ve looked at them every time we went there. It looked like jumping straight down from the top of a cliff. It looked like a sheer terror. But I suppose, once you have tried it, it must be such an exhilarating experience. That”s why we saw people, young and old, who kept going back up and shooting down. I don”t want to trivialize life”s serious experiences by comparing them to ski or to water slides. But the psychology behind overcoming the fear of unknown is basically the same. Unless you try it, you will never know.

To give birth to the first child must be very scary. The first day at the school, or at a new job can be very frightening. But we learn not to fear them from others” experiences of having gone through them. Also it helps to know that someone you love and trust is with you, going through the frightening experience with you. Then how come we always complain about any new situation that challenge us. We are just like the Hebrews on the banks of Red Sea.

The Hebrews witnessed many incredible and powerful acts of God that redeemed them from the bondage in Egypt. But how soon they forgot those favours they received from God. As soon as they came face to face with some fresh difficulties and dangers, they regretted that they had ever wanted to be free. When you can”t remember the love of God, you will never appreciate what it means to be a human being. The Hebrews wanted to return to the easy but sub-human life of slaves, because they forgot the love of God. When they were slaves, they did not have to make decisions, never had to exercise their imagination to solve problems. They were like babies letting others make all the decisions. In fact, it is the life of domesticated animals they wanted to go back to. They completely forgot how they hated the way they were treated like animals. When one is in such a mindset seeing only the past with nostalgia, one can not see any possibility of resolution because one is not looking forward. If going back seems impossible, sulking and whining are the only thing left for them to do. This was the case of the Hebrews by the Red Sea with the Egyptian Army behind them. "Why did you force us to do it? It is all your fault." We whine when we decide to give up, refusing to look at what is possible. When we give up, nothing is possible. Even if there are many avenues visible before us, we don”t see them.

Anyhow, when the whole company of Hebrews were in a state of panic, God told Moses to touch the water with his cane. We will never know what exactly happened. But the sea parted, and dry land appeared. Some translation of the Bible suggests "Reed Sea" instated of "Red Sea", which is Northwest of Red Sea and a border region between Egypt and Sinai desert. It is now a part of the Suez Canal system. In that region, from time to time, a strong gust of wind from Sahara desert can blow away water from the marshy reed bush, and animals and people could walk across the swamp for a short while. But it is also dangerous, because you never know when the wind stops and water comes back. The Egyptians did not make it. No one can tell if this was how it actually happened. The point is, however, that if you look hard enough, most problems are solvable. But if you give up and only complain, they are insolvable.

If you believe that you are acting according to God”s plan and you are a co-worker with God, you will be more determined to face life”s difficulties. You will not give up, because God is with you, as he promised to Moses. The most important lesson of the story is that the Hebrew people were always reminded that they were travelling with God, as he promised Moses that he would. Even when they forgot about God”s presence, there were many signs that reminded them of that. There were pillars of clouds in the daytime, and of the fire at night, which signalled God”s presence and his guidance. The same promise is with us. If you look around, there are many signs of God”s presence. If we forget, there are many faithful witnesses who point those signs out to us. Those witnesses are everywhere; some of them may be sitting next to you.

A: HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? – FOURTH SUNDAY OF SEPTEMBER

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

Exodus 16: 1 – 15, Psalm 111, Matthew 20: 1 – 16

September 22, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

There is no universal standard to determine, "how much is enough." For some people, what is enough is so little according to other people”s standards. On the other hand, for some other people there is no such thing as enough. According to the World Value Survey in 1995, only 8% of people in the Republic of Ireland said they were not happy. Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Japanese, in contrast, who are on the average twice as rich as the Irish, a full 20% of people said they were unhappy. It is clear that being rich is not a guarantee for happiness. The scripture lessons for today tell us that God provides enough. And it is up to us to be happy about it.

One morning when the Hebrews ran out of food in the desert, they found some edible fluffy and sweet stuff on the ground. Moses said that it was gifts from God called manna. We don”t know what it was. Whatever it was, it must have been very perishable. Those who collected more than they could eat in one day, found left-over completely spoiled next day. We know that some food stuff must be eaten very fresh like sushi. Many people think that it is revolting to eat raw fish. What they have to know, however, is that only very fresh fish, no older than a day, is good enough for decent sushi. And when it is fresh, it is very good. It is addictive. Ask Muriel. This is why in most of the Oriental fish stores, the fish is sold in aquariums like we do with lobsters.

Most food stuff are the best when they are fresh. And fresh food is good for health. There is a Japanese saying, "The way to good health is to eat the fruits of the season." I now can affirm this ancient wisdom as we enjoyed fresh produce from our garden this year.

"One day at a time." is one of the important articles of faith for the Alcoholic Anonymous. Things change unexpectedly. We will never know what exactly lies ahead of us. It is because God”s world is alive and dynamic. Yes, it is important to plan ahead. But also we should be humble enough to know that we can be quite wrong in our predictions. When we depend only on our ability to see future, we will never find peace of mind. This is why those brave people in the Alcoholic Anonymous who have guts enough to admit that they have problems have decided to look at themselves only one day at a time. They know that on the next day, something unexpected can happen and they may go back to bad old habits. All of us fail from time to time. So the day after they will try again. They trust that God knows best and is watching over them lovingly and patiently, like a mother who watches over a toddler learning to walk.

So how do we know when we have enough? It is when we are happy with what we have, and stop wanting more. Happiness and material things are two important components of knowing when we have "enough". They must come together. It is never enough when you have nothing. Everyone needs a certain amount of material things. This is why the Christians do not believe that there is such thing as purely spiritual happiness totally devoid of material things. So we believe that to work hard to eliminate poverty is an important Christian duty. However, at some point, we have to be satisfied with what we have. Otherwise we will never feel we have enough. Then we won”t know when to stop working. Simply accumulating things will never make us content, unless at one point we feel happy with what we acquired and stop. Some people never feel they have enough, even if they have the whole world at their disposal. It is because material things alone does not give you satisfaction without deep feeling of contentment. And it comes only from spiritual part of you.

We learn two lessons from today”s scriptures. First, we must believe that God provides enough for every creature. Secondly, we must know when it is enough and when to stop wanting more. Otherwise greed takes over, and there will be no stopping. Greed will stop only when everything is destroyed including the one who is greedy.

Each one of us has to do our share of God”s work as much as we can. However, God created this world where every creature could be sustained. As all farmers know, we can produce a lot more food. No one denys that agriculture can feed a lot more people than there are on this planet now. The world God created has an enormous capacity to sustain us. Then how come some people are malnourished and even starve to death. We know it is not because of shortage of food. It is because of the world does not have a good distribution system. So some people can not buy food, though food is there.

When I was assigned to the job of coordinating famine relief in Africa ten years ago, one of the projects I participated was to study the cause of starvation. In no time we discovered that the problem was not producing not enough food. We humans can produce a lot of food. Even Ethiopia, where about a million people died from starvation ten years ago, exported more food items, like coffee, sugar and beef, to Europe during the famine, for cash. They needed cash to buy armaments to fight a civil war. Many people who were outside of the government, military, or cash crop sector starved, because they had been given no credit to produce food thus had no money to buy food when crops failed. There is a lot of food available in the world. I am sure many of you want to produce a lot more food, if there are buyers. The problem is that there are not enough people who have money to buy food. So people continue to starve, while food is wasted.

So God does provide, so long as all of us do our share of work. Even those who were unlucky to find work at the last hour of the day can have share of world”s goodness to live. Problem is greed. If there is no greedy people in the world, it will be easier to create a system that distributes enough things to everybody. Greed does not like equality. The one who worked all day did not like what they saw when the one who worked less got the same pay. A seed of greed was germinated when envy entered his minds. Once greed has taken over, it will not allow you to stop. It is like going down hill on ski without knowing how to stop. You have to crash into something solid to stop. You may seriously injure yourself at best, you may even lose your life.

Ask a bunch of very rich people if they have enough. Few would say they have enough, I am sure. They need, I am told, on the average, 30 % more to be happy. Funny thing is that the people with median incomes also want the same 30 % more, also. Greed will never let you feel that you have enough. Also greed never allows you to be happy when you have as much as your neighbour. Greed thrives on inequality. So our society ends up with some people having too much and some too little. Today”s lessons tell us that is not the God”s way.

Have you ever stop to think sometimes that our affluence can be actually harmful? By 1967, the most of the western countries reached the level of affluence that provided all the basic necessities for our healthy life. Anything that has come after that are extra. We really do not need them, but it is nice to have them. We enjoy them, but some of those extras are actually harming our well being. For example, we all know that many of the top killer diseases are preventable if we consume less. Have I told you about my former anti-white student who became the Director of Botswana Meat Board? His job was to sell beef to Europe? With a cheeky smile, he said, "I am killing Europeans slowly."

 

So, let us remember and trust that God provides enough. And let us be happy and grateful for it. Many of us love our work, that”s O.K. Consequently many of us produce more than we need. That”s O.K., too, so long as you have time to enjoy it. The trick is not to get caught up in a rat race of accumulating surpluses we don”t need. We should know the time to say, "That”s enough." and stop to enjoy and to share. And don”t forget to say "thank you" to God who provides.

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR B: A COSTLY BLESSING – ADVENT, ANNUNCIATION

Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:47-55

In order to learn the language in Africa, I lived in an isolated mission which was two hundred years old.  It was a compound of about ten acres, with a bush, a vegetable garden, a spring, a cemetery, and a huge house made of mud and cow dung.   Looking at the grave stones in the cemetery, I often wondered how missionary families survived in the last century.  Many children were buried there.  Infants died before they reached their first birthdays, with quite a few dying at birth.  The life of the missionaries must have been hard.  I can”t begin to imagine how hard it must have been for women to go through the pain and suffering of giving birth and then seeing many of their children die.
 
My knowledge of child birth is from watching TV programs and films.  My daughter was born at the time when fathers were not allowed in the birthing room.  It all looks and sounds so painful.  I don”t like pain.  This is why it is hard for me to understand how any woman would be willing to give birth even in civilized conditions.  And yet, birth happens all the time, billions of times.  Without women”s acceptance of their painful role in procreation, our species should have been extinct a long time ago.  I sometimes wonder how women can accept child birth as a blessing.  If it is, and I am sure they think it is, it is a costly blessing.  The story of Annunciation is about a costly blessing and about Mary”s huge faith in God”s plan which she largely did not get to see realized in her life time.

When Mary received the news about her pregnancy, the angel Gabriel said to her, "God is giving you a big favour.  You will bear a child.  He will be great and called Son of God."  But Mary never sounded convinced that she was hearing good news.  "How can this be?  It can”t be true."  She said.  You realize that she was only a teenager of maybe 15 or 16.  But I don”t think she was completely gullible despite her age.  She must have known the fate that awaited a pregnant unmarried girl.  It was not just the hazards and pain of child birth.  At best, it could mean being cast out from the community for being a loose woman, or, at worst, death by stoning as an adulterer, which was the sentence for a woman who became pregnant outside of marriage.  Mary was right.  How can this be a blessing?  It sounded more like a curse than a blessing.

Her fiancé, Joseph, saved her from this cruel fate.  Without his incredible graciousness in accepting Mary”s claim, we would not have Christmas.  He believed a message he heard in a dream as God”s words.  He wanted to believe in God, because he loved Mary so much.  He swallowed his pride, and accepted Mary”s story and her faith in God.  Christmas is a story of love.  It is a story of the faith of a man in a woman, of a man who decided to believe an impossible story because he loved her dearly.  Today, if we heard a teenage girl say just like Mary, "God made me pregnant," we would probably ridicule her for being gullible and stupid, if not downright insane.  The story of Joseph is another miracle of Christmas.  It is also a story of a brave young girl who accepted as a blessing what looked like a curse.  She believed in God”s plans, although she didn”t understand what it was all about.  Mary believed what she heard and accepted the fate that awaited her and her son.  "I am a servant of the Lord; may it happen to me as you have said," she said.

The Annunciation is the beginning of a story of a costly blessing.  Mary”s life with Jesus was mostly the story of a mother”s suffering.  She was distressed many times as Jesus outgrew Mary”s capacity to understand.  Her son said many outrageous things in public, offended and angered many important people.  She didn”t understand him.  She tried to take him home, because she was so afraid of her son”s safety.  One time, she even thought that her son had become insane.  She was very happy, when her son became a popular healer and preacher.  Thousands followed him everywhere.  But the good time was short lived.  He was soon arrested, publicly humiliated, and died an excruciatingly cruel death on a cross.  What an ordeal for a mother!  How could such a son”s life be a blessing for mother?

But Mary was a mother.  Mothers understand the costliness of blessings, because they live through the pain of birth.  Though there weren”t many visible rewards for Mary in her life time, the annunciation became a blessing, nevertheless, because of her faith.  She never knew that her son would be adored and worshipped so universally two thousand years later.  She only knew for a few years the small daily joys of watching her child grow.  She had never imagined that she would be admired for her courage and faith, in the arts and music, and named in some faith traditions as the "Mother of God."  Her faith gave birth to a blessing for all of us.  Thank God for Mary and Joseph, and their faith in each other and in God, which made Christmas possible.

Mas Salaame — Peace be with you, Good-bye Jayyous! (December 8)

On my last day in Jayyous, I went to the South gate to make sure that the Bedouin family had gone home. Yes, they had. The Israeli Defense Force soldiers came on time and opened the gate for them. None of us had to wait long in the hot sun with the hunger and thirst pangs of the midday of Ramadan. But Mustafa** rushed out to make sure he would not miss the excitement. He is only seven–a cute little boy. But for a while I had dreaded running into him at the gate.

Ever since the computer game called “UABE — the Gate” hit the local Internet Café, young boys increasingly became the source of our dread and fear. Some enterprising computer programmer designed a game about the separation fence and the gates. The game simulates a battle between Israeli soldiers and stone throwing teenage boys trying to kill each other. One evening at the gate opening, we found ourselves having to disarm a bunch of young boys who had stones in their hands. Either they didn”t know that they could be shot or they were too young to know what ”being shot” meant. We had to ask the mayor for older persons to be at the gate every time it was opened, and to accompany us when we did the gate watch to prevent the young boys playing games in the real and deadly situation. A few evenings before I had to grab Mustafa and tear a stone out of his little hand. He looked at me with hate-filled eyes and said, “Shalom” — a bad signal, addressing me like he would to an Israeli soldier. Happily, we became friends in a few days after his big brother started to come to make sure the little one behaved. We even had tea at his home one evening. So on this day, when I said “Mas Salaame — Good-bye,” he made peace signs with both hands and gave me a big smile. Or could it be that he was saying, “Victory” like Winston Churchill during the Second World War?
Things got worse after I left Jayyous. I was in Jerusalem preparing to go back to Canada when I heard that the day after I left, the South gate was never opened in the afternoon. The Bedouin family waited all afternoon and all evening for soldiers to open the gate. No soldier came. One village family took the four kids and the mother in and gave them their first liquid and solid food since sunrise. It was Ramadan. Nobody eats or drink between sunrise and sunset. They slept in the home of the kind family and went home the next morning when the gate was at last opened, totally exhausted. Of course, kids missed school.

Now I”m home in Lethbridge in Canada, safe and sound. I came back with a touch of chest cold I picked up in Jerusalem but nothing serious. It”s so beautiful here. The air is crisp, the sky is so high, and deer roam in the snow in the coulees. Crab apples and chokecherries have been made into jelly ready to adorn toast. Yum! People are animated about increasing electricity rates and same sex marriage, Paul Martin is waiting to be anointed as Prime Minister and the union between the Alliance and PC is a fait accompli. I”m sure they are important–but please save me from peaceful boredom. Peace is hard to take. The life at the gate, on the other hand, is about waiting, a lot of it, but is far from boring. Waiting for soldiers is about anxiety and frustration. Anger builds up as we wait. It sometimes explodes.

I heard a few days after I came back from Sebastien that the South gate in Jayyous is indefinitely closed. Sebastien is a young Swiss theologian from Neuchatel working with children suffering post-traumatic-stress-syndrome. He came to live with us for a week and watched the South gate with me. He also picked olives with Abdul Karim†. He was the man who once gave me a ride on his donkey. Sebastien and Abdul Karim became best of friends. Now he tells me that the gate is closed for good and Abdul Karim could not go to his field unless he walks one and a half hours through the North gate to the field he could see right in front of the gate. Why? Did any boy throw stones? Were the gate and the fence vandalized again? What is Mohammed† going to do? His field was divided into two because of the fence while losing acres of his land for fence construction. The Israeli District Commander promised that his land would be returned when the fence became redundant. Sure, in the next millennium? I feel so helpless. Sebastien also wrote to me about an old man who never spoke to me. He waited days on end for the gate opening. The Bedouin mother saw him sitting by the gate on the other side of the fence, and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I have to speak to my trees.” His family had those olive trees for centuries, everybody spoke to the trees everyday as though speaking to the ancestors. So the brave woman stopped an IDF jeep and demanded that the soldiers let the man through so he could speak to the trees. The soldiers just laughed and went on.

I know that I don”t belong to Palestine and have to let go of it and go on with my life. After all, it”s the struggle for Israelis and Palestinians to resolve by themselves. So many US Presidents got involved. But where are their “Peace Plans” now? The Geneva Accord, though not an official agreement, gives us a glimmer of hope. But how long do they have to suffer? Do I have any right to tell them to wait?

When I first went to Israel and Palestine in 1979, I thought things could never be any worse. It will explode soon, I thought. Settlements built by the Israelis were in their beginning stage. Scholars theorized that the settler population would reach 100,000 soon. That would be the benchmark to indicate an irreversible permanent annexation of Palestine by the State of Israel. Now there are more than 200,000 settlers. Some of the settlements are so old and well established that the residents don”t realize that they live on the illegally occupied lands. They are simply called “communities.” The Jordan Valley does not resemble the Palestine I used to know at all. It looks like California with totally commercialized mechanized corporate farming. The whole of the West Bank is divided by highways connecting settlements, ignoring and cutting off roads connecting Palestinian towns and villages. It is now much worse than in 1979.

For 20 years, Palestinian friends have told us to work on government policy and public opinion in Canada. So, I went to Ottawa with briefs, asked our colleagues who went to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to support our briefs. I traveled with a Rabbi from the Canadian Jewish Congress to Israel and the Occupied Territories so we both could see what others” views were based on. And we did many other things for the cause of peace. We were happy to see Manahem Begin shaking hands with Anwar Sadat in front of a smiling Jimmy Carter, or Itzak Rabin with Yasser Arafat, in front of Bill Clinton, and other presidents and the shaking hands of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Did things get better? No, they got worse. The bloody Intifada of the eighties didn”t produce anything positive. And this time, the second Intifada and the Israeli response have been more bloody. It looks hopeless, as many friends agree. Political leadership on both sides lacks vision, and perhaps is corrupt. They speak about peace in unison but the word sounds so hollow. Do I still hope for peace? I had given up. I wanted to get away from all this and start enjoying my quiet retirement.

Then I was sent to Jayyous thanks to some creative persons in the United Church House. Or perhaps they were mad? Who would think of sending someone old and retired like me to be the first participant from Canada in a brand-new program, which nobody is quite sure how it would work? I am immensely grateful for that creativity, madness or not, because I regained faith and hope for the future. No, I didn”t see any new policy initiative. The leadership on both sides is just as bloody minded and is bankrupt of policy initiative and of vision. But I lived with Palestinians and Israelis. They love life, love to be let to live and to be loved. They have the same aspirations to good life, family and friends. They don”t mind hard work so long as they can eat the fruits of their labour. They don”t want their children to die and want to live long lives as God allows. Like the cliché, they are like us. Yes, they are easily led by demagogues and propaganda, and are afraid of and hostile to the other party. But I saw them: when peace loving Israelis come face to face with Palestinian villagers to pick olives they saw human faces in the others. Even some soldiers, confronted by suffering of children and women, cried and apologized for having to obey orders. There and then I saw a glimmer of hope. Now I have faith. The Lord will come. Peace will come, God willing — Inshaala. Goodbye Jayyous till we meet again. Peace, Shalom, Salaame!

Tad Mitsui
Lethbridge, Alberta
Monday, December 8, 2003

† Not real names

Waiting in Jayyous (November 24)

Life at the gates of Israel”s so-called “separation fence” is a life of waiting in Jayyous. As accompaniers, we wait for long periods until soldiers arrive to let the Palestinians cross. Accompanying at the gate means waiting with the farmers and the school children. When Iwas a seminary student, I read a sermon by Paul Tillich in which he used waiting as a metaphor for faith. In our culture, however, we put value on speed and technology, giving the concept of waiting a negative connotation. But in Samuel Becket”s play Waiting for Godot, some profound truths about the human condition are explored through the vehicle of waiting. Psalmists sung about our faith as “waiting patiently for our God.”

During the last few weeks, I have noticed that the Bedouin girl in Jayyous, who needs to cross the gate every morning to get to school, is showing increased signs of defiance. She sits away from her mother on a rough rock instead of under the cooling shade of an olive tree. She looks at her younger brothers in disdain as they engage in childish fooling around while waiting for the soldiers to arrive. She argues with her mother more often nowadays as she grows impatient during the interminable waits. It”s painful to watch a young girl covered with a hijab and a long dress while sitting in the hot sun waiting for soldiers who can”t keep to their own schedule.

The South gate of Jayyous, where I often do the watch, is the only access to the village for the Bedouin family, which lives on the other side of the fence from the village. The children, a girl and three boys, two of them quite young, have to depend on the Israeli soldiers in order to get to school in the morning and return home in the afternoon. Their mother always accompanies them and spends the day in the village until the children are dismissed from school. She dares not let the younger boys try to make the crossing alone, even though it is a short 10-minute walk. Despite the schedule written on a sign by the gate, more often than not the children are late to school. Sometimes they miss school altogether. It”s not the fault of the family but of the soldiers, who almost never keep to the schedule. I have been told that there is an older boy who some time ago decided to quit school because of the difficulties. I have also been told that they are not doing well in school because of their irregular attendance.

During the many hours of waiting at both gates, some young farmers become so impatient that they resort to reckless behaviour. The younger boys are even worse. When the older villagers see them resorting to destructive acts, they usually stop them. The older residents should know the proper way to behave — they have been living under occupation for a long time. I once saw an old man chasing a man in his thirties with a whip. The younger man was trying to bend the razor wire in frustration over the late arrival of the soldiers. The young boys frequently throw stones at the fence. This behaviour is usually met with severe reprimands from the older men. One of my colleagues met a family with a son in his 30s who is in prison. He has been held without trial since he was 14 years old for throwing stones at soldiers during the first intifada, according to the family. The older men know the futility of throwing stones. But is it worthwhile to be patient and wait? Or should they just give up? Is that what it means to wait?

The Israeli government says that the fence or wall is a temporary measure to stop suicide bombers. Additionally, the government says the land will be returned to the original owners and the barriers will be removed after a political settlement is reached. But if one examines the preceding rationales, it is difficult to find credibility in either. The fence is made in such a way that a child with an ordinary wire cutter can cut a hole large enough for a person to go through. It was said that the fence is “electrified” but, in Jayyous at least, it has never worked; everybody touches it. There are some contraptions that would indicate that it is “motion sensitive.” That has never been true in Jayyous either. I have often seen people climbing over them. In any event, the fence will not stop determined, half-crazed individuals intent on killing themselves and taking the lives of others. To be sure, there are tall concrete walls in Qalquilia and Tulkarem but they are not very long. In short, the barrier will not stop suicide bombers.

As for the claim about the temporary nature of the structure, it would be more believable if it was being built on the pre-1967 green line. The situation begs many questions. Why do some parts of the barrier penetrate deep into the Palestinian territories and surround the settlements? Why, if one looks at the areas around Jayyous, does the barrier separate people from their land, greenhouses, and olive groves? Why does the barrier separate people from their source of water? In the Qalqilia and Tulkarem districts Palestinian farmers now cannot reach their wells. Those two districts contain two of the three most important aquifers in the West Bank. Are these temporary measures? Is it really worthwhile waiting patiently until all the gates are opened and the barriers come down? Is the Bedouin girl unreasonably insolent? Is the old man with the whip right? Should they all still wait? What does the term “wait for God” mean?

I don”t believe that waiting is a mere passive action. I believe that there can be active waiting just as there can be passive resistance. A few days ago, I stumbled very badly and injured my knee, drawing quite a bit of blood. Per Einar, my Norwegian colleague, brought out his first-aid kit and did a professional job dressing the wound. Sure enough, it healed in a very short time. I said to Per Einar, “You performed a miracle.” But Per Einar replied, “No, I just prepared for the miracle.” Surely there can be a lot of preparation when you wait for liberation. I haven”t quite figured out how this active waiting fits into the context of Palestinian liberation yet. But there must be ways to prepare for the arrival of freedom.

When I watched Nelson Mandela walking out of the prison, I thought that I was surely seeing a miracle. I never thought that the liberation of South Africa would ever come in my lifetime, but the miracle did happen. And what a lot of preparation was needed for its arrival! We have faith in God”s agenda. We wait patiently for the Lord.

Unhappy New Year (November 7)

Tad Mitsui, an Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) in Jayyous, has been chronicling his experiences in the small farming community near Qalqiliya, which has been virtually split in half by Israel”s "security fence." He wrote the following letter as the Israeli military continued to deny farmers access to their own fields during the critical harvest season. Military officials cited recent terrorist attacks as well as threats of further attacks during the Jewish holidays as the reason for keeping the gates closed.

Tad MitsuiAnother day was wasted for at least four young farmers at the south gate in Jayyous today. It was an ideal harvest day–sunny, not too hot and the rains had yet to come. But the gates were closed for them. Probably much of the crops in the fields, greenhouses, and olive groves are ruined by now after nearly a month of forced neglect. It was the first day the gates were opened since Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah was followed closely by two more Jewish holidays — Yom Kippur and Succoth. The gates were closed throughout all three holidays. Today, when the gates were finally opened, the soldiers allowed only women and men older that 35 to go to work.

Muhammed, a young farmer, was so angry that he appeared to turn blue as he was shouting at an Arabic-speaking soldier. His two brothers had to pull him away. All three did not want to go home, knowing that that the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is approaching. Beginning October 27th, Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, making working in the fields a health risk. So we sat down under an olive tree and began the futile wait. At that moment, we heard an old woman shouting. It was Muhammed”s mother who had stopped a jeep and was demanding that the soldiers reopen the gate so she could cross back from the fields and to the village side. She had seen the confrontation her sons had had with the soldiers and wanted to be able to prevent any further trouble, both for her family and the other villagers.

By the time we sat down again for tea and cigarettes it was 8 a.m. The sun was making its ascent in the sky, dissipating the cool of the morning and bringing on the heat of the day. We”d been at the gate since 6 a.m. I took my jacket off, rolled it into a pillow and decided to take a nap. All the trees on the village side of the fence had been cleanly picked of olives, leaving no work for us. All those olives were already extra virgin oil by now — thick, green, beautiful stuff. But there was so much work to be done on the other side of the fence and time was running out.

The military had announced that the gates were going to be opened after Yom Kippur. But two events led to the extended closures. The fields between the 1967 Green Line and the "security fence" in Jayyous were declared "military zones" after a suicide bombing in Haifa and an armed attack on a settlement in Gaza. Jayyous and a few other communities were cut off from their fields or from their work places by the security fence, or wall, because the gates were not opened. People watched helplessly as their valuable crops ripened unharvested on the other side of the fence.

During the time of closures we kept going to the south gate because it was supposed to be opened for the children who live on the other side of the fence so they could attend school. One day last week I was with fellow Ecumenical Accompanier (EA) Maren, a Danish medical student visiting in Jayyous. It was 2 p.m., the time when the gate is to be opened so the children, with their mother Zarefeh, can go home. The soldiers were late but so was Zarefeh. The construction of the fence has been a particular hardship for her as she must spend her entire day in town after accompanying her children to school in the morning. Zarefeh”s tardiness created a nervous situation. "What if the soldiers don”t wait for the family?" I thought. We went to the gate and asked the soldiers to wait, initiating a tense 10 minutes.

Maren ran to the house where the children said their mother was. She came back huffing and puffing, reporting that Zarefeh was expecting some vegetables to be delivered. She did not want to move without her vegetables. "Oh, dear!" I thought. "I hope she knows what she is doing." I asked the soldiers if they could come back in half an hour and they agreed. One half hour later six jeeps arrived with 30 soldiers! But Zarefeh was still not at the gate.

Maren and I were scared at the seemingly inexplicable actions taken by the soldiers. Both sides of the road on the other side of the gate were blocked by four soldiers and the rest faced us with their rifles poised in our direction. Finally Zarefeh appeared, laden with vegetables of all sorts, as if she didn”t have a care in the world. She went right to the gate, asked the soldiers to open it, told the children to follow her with some vegetables, and disappeared down the hill as though nothing unusual had happened. Maren and I, the two foreigners, were the only ones sweating. We wondered if, because they were asked to wait so long, the soldiers thought that there was something sinister being schemed on our side of the fence, necessitating 30 soldiers for reinforcement. But Zarefeh, a tough Bedouin woman in black, was in command of the situation.

The following day, I went to the south gate again, this time with Louise and Arn, two more Danish EAs visiting Jayyous. This time there were farmers waiting, causing us to wonder if they had heard something we hadn”t. There was no problem getting Zarefeh and her children through to the village side of the fence. But the farmers were a different story due to the declaration of a "military zone." Louise went to the soldiers and said, "These people haven”t been to the fields for nearly a month! Their crops are being ruined." A grey-haired reservist with a pony tail looked at Louise and said, "I”m sorry. I”m just following orders." He looked sad and remorseful as he gave his reply.

Louise left the gate and went to sit with the women who were still lingering around, hoping somehow that they could still go to the olive groves in order to harvest. A few minutes later, I found all of the women with tears in their eyes. These were signs of the days of frustration that had been building up in all the people of Jayyous as they saw their livelihoods imprisoned and ruined behind a chain-link fence.

On our way back to the north gate we ran into some British aid workers who were sitting on a rock to catch their breath. We told them what had happened at the south gate and one replied, "You cried!? Good for you! I have been angry for so long that I forgot to cry. It”s the most helpful thing you could do."

Unhappy New Year to you Jayyous! Ramadan is nearly here and we wish all of Jayyous a proper month of fasting and prayers to acquire the strength to endure until a better day.

Tad, Ecumenical Accompanier
Jayyous

Learning to Share Powerlessness (October 31)

We had been waiting for the Israeli soldiers to come and open the gate in the “separation fence” for two hours here in Jayyous, allowing the farmers to get to their fields. The sun was already high, children were already late for school, and the day was getting shorter for harvesting. Olives, as precious as gold in this community, were overripe and starting to dry up on the trees. And we continued to wait.

As the hours passed by, Mustafa looked at me and my mobile phone and demanded: “Why don”t you call soldiers?” “I can”t!” I shot back. But he didn”t believe me. He didn”t realize that I was as helpless as he was. After all, as far as he was concerned, foreigners are supposed to fix everything that needs fixing. We accept the lot with pride, and feel badly when we cannot fix it. We don”t know how to share powerlessness. Hence, a search for it has become my spiritual journey in this little corner of the Holy Land.

For far too long, we have designated ourselves as “fixer-uppers.” When we face a situation with no possibility of fixing, we get frustrated and sometimes take inappropriate actions. Meanwhile, some people have the capacity to live with helplessness and share it with others, often accompanied by soothing tears.

Recently soldiers stopped all those who were younger than 35 and did not allow them to go to work in the fields for reasons of “security.” Women bunched together and cried as another day”s harvest was lost, while men resorted to destructive behaviour such as vandalizing the fence. Louise, a journalist from Denmark, joined the women who were prevented from going to the fields and cried with them. Hearing this, a British volunteer from an international solidarity organization said: “That must have been the most healing thing that happened to those women–sharing tears. I wish I could do that.”

The trouble is that even though we have come to Palestine and Israel to accompany and journey with our brothers and sisters on their rocky road to peace, we still hold advantages. These advantages prevent us from fully sharing in the lives of our brothers and sisters. We have foreign passports, for example, which allow us to go where Palestinians or Israelis often have difficulty entering. It often takes hours for Palestinians to go through checkpoints, if they are allowed through at all. Israeli peace activists are prohibited from entering areas that are supposedly under the total control of the Palestinian Authority. However, we can go through checkpoints in three seconds by flashing our passports. Maren, a medical student and Ecumenical Accompanier from Denmark, thought that her presence helped an ambulance go through a checkpoint in a shorter time than usual recently. But her Palestinian colleague said to her: “I wanted you to see what a checkpoint really is like for us.”

All of us carry mobile telephones, which we are required to keep on at all times, ostensibly for our safety. Recently the soldiers were once again late in arriving so I telephoned HaMoked to find out the reason for the delay. HaMoked is an Israeli human rights organization, which is called the “Organization for the Defence of Individuals” in English. It maintains up-to-date information about the conditions at checkpoints and gates and helps Palestinians who are having difficulty getting through. It often intervenes by contacting the authorities. The representative at HaMoked said: “I will call you back as soon as I find out what the problem is.” A second later a jeep pulled up, and the gate was opened, a complete coincidence. A man on a donkey saw all this and flashed the thumbs up sign as though to say: “Thanks, you did it again.” “No, I didn”t. It was just a coincidence!” I thought. But as far as he was concerned, a foreigner did his magic bit again.

People often ask: “Do people in the village accept your presence?” Of course most do but sometimes I wonder. There are a few older men and women who don”t seem to care if I am there or not. I see this old man who always comes to the gate with a donkey cart, wearing a traditional kaffiyeh. He always wears an old worn-out dress jacket underneath the kaffiyeh. He usually sits on a stone near the gate, looking at the ground while patiently waiting for the opening. He never says anything to anyone. I try to sit next to him to somehow engage him. He always ignores me and keeps looking down at the ground between his shoes. I can feel his embarrassment over the whole humiliating situation. Why does he have to depend on foreign occupying troops to open the gate so he can get to his field? Worse still: why does he have to endure the presence of foreigners to solve his problem for him? I saw the same proud but humiliated eyes in the soup kitchen in Montreal. While others seemed defeated and servile, some looked disdainful. I see others who are like him, often older men and women. Some may think I am reading too much into his stoicism but I don”t think I am. Why? Because I know the humiliation of being on the receiving end of charity.

I was desperately hungry once and Americans gave us food. They saved us from death by starvation. This was in Japan after its surrender in World War II in 1945. Was I grateful? I have to say I was; after all I am still alive today. I should have been, if I wasn”t. But what I remember more vividly was a feeling of humiliation rather than gratitude. Receiving charity is humiliating. Having to depend on other people always is. We feel strongly that we should be independent and self-sufficient. That self-confidence makes us proud creatures who believe that God made us in his own image as beings only slightly below Him. This is the source of our dignity. It makes sense, therefore, that Jesus said: “It is better to give than to receive.” We have to realize, however, that we may not always be privileged to give.

When I went to Africa, I was called a “missionary.” The term was everywhere around me. I went to the Missionary Orientation Conference in London, Ontario and to L”Ecole Missionaire in Paris. It was assumed that I knew something “they” didn”t, and had something to give which “they” hadn”t. I am glad that those days of Western conceit are over. This is why I like the notion of accompaniment very much. I like it especially because of the situation people are facing in Palestine and Israel. We in the West bear a lot of responsibility for creating the problem here. The Western Christian world persecuted the Jewish people for millennia. We barely acknowledged the suffering of Palestinians for nearly half a century. Yes, we have helped cause many of the problems here but let us not compound our mistakes by behaving as though we know so much and can do so much to fix things here. The only thing left for us to do is to share in the humility and powerlessness of people.

Tad, Ecumenical Accompanier
Jayyous

Military Order: Gates completely closed in Jayyous for 10 Days (October 9)

The powder keg that is Jayyous showed some signs of igniting recently when the gates that are supposed to allow farmers access to their fields remained closed through the Yom Kippur holiday and beyond. The gates were originally supposed to be reopened on the Tuesday following the end of Yom Kippur but that never happened. Instead, farmers were left to contemplate another lost day in their olive harvest, the life blood of this community.

The farmers were all ready to go harvesting in order to recover the lost four days following Yom Kippur. The soldiers came, but they didn”t open the gate. The already tense situation became even more volatile as the angry farmers demanded the right to make a living. One young man became so enraged that after the soldiers left he started to shake the gate. An old man stopped him so that cooler minds prevailed this time.

The Tuesday after Yom Kippur was supposed to be a big day, a solidarity day with the Palestinian farmers. Many Israeli and international peace activists were planning to join the farmers to pick olives, including from those trees near the settlements. Israeli peace organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights, Women in Black and many other solidarity groups from other parts of the world were coming to help in the all-important harvest. Many of my fellow Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) from all over Israel and Palestine came to Jayyous to join in solidarity. We had an almost party-like atmosphere at our house the night before with wall-to-wall people sleeping everywhere. I cooked ratatouille–the best from my repertoire–for 12 people.

The following day, Wednesday October 8th, fellow EA Anna and I went to the south gate at 7 a.m. I was concerned about the school children whose home unfortunately is located on the wrong side of the fence. A jeep came by but didn”t stop–an ominous sign. There were two young mothers, three babies between them, who were standing on the side. They were from Jordan, visiting relatives in Jayyous and on their way home. They had a taxi waiting for them but they couldn”t get to it because of the closed gate. They were on the verge of tears but then they did the unthinkable. They started to climb the fence while wearing traditional Muslim attire. I couldn”t believe my eyes. Many men rushed to help them. Even I wouldn”t do that–going over the fence with barbed wire and all, and I wear pants. They went over one by one, then the babies were brought over, and finally five heavy suitcases–all over the fence. Desperation will cause people to do things they wouldn”t consider under ordinary circumstances. I was immobile watching the whole scene while Anna went to help the women climbing down the fence. I broke out in cold sweat, not so much because of the danger of climbing up and down the fence but because of the soldiers. They are under orders to shoot those who would climb over the fence and they can show up at any time. Fortunately they managed to complete the long process before the soldiers returned. What a relief!

We waited, and waited as the sun moved higher in the sky and the temperature, both literally and figuratively, grew hotter and hotter. The children gave up and went home, losing yet another day of school with no end in sight. Some people sat down in the shade of the nearest olive trees. There were 20 farmers and eight donkeys. A woman in traditional black Palestinian clothes brought me a cup of strong Arab coffee. “Shukran! Thank you,” I said. “The best coffee in the world!” In the shade of a tree, Mohammed, one of the farmers, told me that he lost about 150 trees when the fence was constructed. They just came, took the land, and uprooted centuries-old trees, he said. Olive trees are a symbol of life here, of belonging to the land–almost sacred. He has lost about a third of his possessions.

I received a phone call, which I asked Mohammed to translate to the others there. The situation at the north gate finally boiled over as farmers broke the lock and walked to the other side, international activists joining them. Most of our colleagues were also at the north gate. With that action, any hope of the south gate opening was dashed. Mohammed wanted international people to come to the south gate as well so they could do the same thing. But there was no one left, just Anna and me. Anna agreed to walk the 40 minutes down to the north gate to see what could be done.

Anna phoned and informed me that the incapacitated north gate would remain open until 6 p.m. So it seemed that it would be possible for farmers to get to their fields, if they could get to the north gate. The farmers with me were infuriated. “Our trees are right here,” they said.

Gaining access to their own land would require a 40-minute walk to the north gate and then another 40-minute walk back to their trees; a trip that would take a few minutes had it not been for the fence. Instead of moving to the north gate, they started to shake the south gate violently until it broke wide open. But as soon as it broke open, they got scared and quickly moved away. By the time the soldiers came around, there was nobody there except me. I tried to talk to the soldiers, but they completely ignored my presence. They calmly took a heavy chain out of the jeep and tied the gate with it, padlocked it, and went away. I thought that any hope of the gate opening anytime soon was gone.

But the farmers came back, one by one, with their donkeys. About half of the original men and women returned. Mohammed asked me again if internationals would come to accompany them to other side. I phoned a person from another international organization, and waited. At about 10 a.m., Anna phoned to inform me that there was a complete closure of all gates and check points in the District of Qalquilia, of which Jayyous is a part, for 10 days. The area had been declared a “military zone” on the spot. The people of Jayyous would be prisoners in their own village with no ability to go to work. I asked Mohammed to relay the information to the people, which he did. Women started to cry before heading home. On the way back to the house, one of the younger farmers said in his halting English, “We will break it tonight.” I didn”t have the nerve to say, “Don”t do it.” I knew very well that it would be very unwise to do such a thing–break open the gate. There could be severe retaliation on the part of the military and the whole community would suffer.

Helicopters were buzzing overhead following the holiday of Yom Kippur. I wondered what their purpose was. Was all this in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Haifa? Would punishing the farmers of Jayyous bring the dead back? Abdul, another of the farmers, gave me a ride back home on his donkey, the poor beast carrying two men on its back. But it sure was nice to have a ride, after a morning under the hot, scorching sun. There had been quite a bit of unwanted excitement but my mind was dark with a foreboding sense of doom.

Tad

A Suicide Attack in Haifa (October 6)

It was good to be back in Jayyous after an unplanned absence. It even rained, as though to celebrate my return. The eucalyptus, jacaranda, and fig trees lining the street on which we live, looked greener and welcoming. I arrived too late to catch the gang of olive pickers even though I left Jerusalem at 6:00 a.m. The gate was closed by the time I got here so I had to look forward to the next day to join the joyous olive harvest. The olive harvest is the very life blood of many communities in Palestine, Jayyous being no different. This year”s, however, is complicated by the presence of the "separation fence."

The next morning I went to the South gate, which is used mainly by school children who live on the other side of the fence. Since it was harvest time, some farmers were waiting for the opening of the gate there as well. The soldiers came on time on this morning but they were different. Two of them were grey-haired older men, one of whom was even wearing a pony tail which made him look like an overgrown hippie. The rest were scared-looking young kids.

This was the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the regular soldiers were on holiday. A representative from Yesh Gvul told me about some activities planned for Yom Kippur this year. Yesh Gvul is an organization of reservist officers who refuse to participate in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, many facing jail time because of their convictions. This year the plan was to go to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”s ranch in the Negev in order to demand that he repent and atone for his multiple sins against Palestinians.

The reservists who were serving today, however, had some bad news for the farmers. The gate would be closed for four days during the Yom Kippur holiday. Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights told me that it was difficult to argue against the closure because Yom Kippur is the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. I understand that, since we impose Christian holidays on non-Christians in Canada as well without giving the individual the right not to observe the holiday and work instead. My problem about this particular closure is that the farmers had no warning about it. The harvest is the most important time of the year for farmers, but they were given no chance to schedule accordingly. Farmers, donkeys, and tractors were forced to turn back, seemingly to observe a holiday from a faith that is not their own.

Before we headed back, my fellow gate watchers and I agreed to phone and E-mail everyone here and abroad to inform them of the situation and ask them to try to change the minds of the occupying authorities. For a few brief moments, there were some signs of compromise — a hint that the gates would be open the next day. But the news of a suicide bombing in Haifa smashed all hopes of such a possibility. That evening, my fellow Ecumenical Accompaniers Don, Per Einar, and I were invited to dinner at the home of the Imam of the local mosque. Abu Sameh, the Imam, and his son were beaming with happiness. His son had just become an imam and was waiting to be assigned to his first mosque. The Imam said that this was a dinner for all the clergy in the village, the three of us all being current or retired ministers. Though we were from two religions, we were all partaking from one common dish of the delicious chicken and rice. While sharing food and laughter, there was a public announcement over the village P.A. system: all the gates would be shut until further notice, due to the military emergency triggered by the suicide bombing in Haifa. All of us fell silent.

A young woman from Jenin, a fledgling lawyer, had killed herself and many other innocent people, including young children. Pure madness and evil. Abu Sameh offered the following theory on the suicide bombings. "Sharon does not want the suicide bombers to stop so that he has an excuse to continue the military operations with devastating consequences."

Abu Sameh reminded us that the number of Palestinian casualties increases greatly because of the consequent military operations following suicide bombings. In time, the living conditions of Palestinians will become so intolerable that Sharon will be able to rid the land of Palestinians without Israel actually expelling them. Palestinians will give up hope and just leave.

"That”s why Sharon will never stop the targeted assassinations of extremist leaders, even though it has been proven that they do not stop the bombers. It is a provocation. Sharon is responsible for the deaths of innocent Israelis," the Imam continued. "Besides, where do we go? The other Arab states don”t like us. The Gulf States expelled us. Palestinians are too clever and take jobs away from local Arabs."

"I am not sure. I have to think about this," I responded. "However, we have to have hope."

On Wednesday, October 8th, many people were expected in Jayyous to join in the olive harvest, including many peace-loving Israelis. The event was to be sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights. But would the gates be open so that this celebration of people from three different faiths — Christians, Muslims and Jews — working together could go on?

Tad
Writing from Jayyous

Peace and Justice Groups in Israel (September 27)

I have been in Jerusalem since September 20th accompanying the team of Swedish Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) who are meeting with peace and justice groups based in Israel and run by Israelis. I have not been relocated for good and I am still hoping that I will be able to return to Jayyous soon.

The reason I am temporarily working in Jerusalem is because the United Church found that the travel insurance I was carrying, for accident, illness, injuries, and death, was only valid in Israel proper and did not cover the West Bank and Gaza. This necessitated my being pulled out of Jayyous. In order for me to be insured in the Palestinian territories, I have to have war and terrorism coverage. I am here reluctantly, waiting for the church to find the proper coverage. The whole situation does not make sense to me. I wonder if the insurance companies realize that suicide bombers attack Israeli cities like Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, not a West bank village like Jayyous.

While I am here in Jerusalem, the Program Coordinator said it was fine for me to travel with the Israel Team of the EAPPI, which consists of three Swedish EAs. The team”s mandate is to visit selected Peace and Justice groups in Israel to find ways for the EAPPI to support and work with them. The selection of these groups is based on whether they have the same aims and objectives as those of the EAPPI. Towards that end, the selected groups all have the same objectives as the EAPPI: to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, to ensure human rights and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, and ultimately to bring peace to the region. It is a very worthwhile task, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

We walk a lot in West Jerusalem where most of the Jewish Israelis in the city live. We even passed the area called German Colony, where the most recent suicide bomb attack occurred. I was once in the café that was struck, two years ago. People there are afraid and, in some way, this is a kind of accompaniment in solidarity with people who live in fear. German Colony also happens to be where some of the Israeli peace groups, like Bat Shalom,* have their offices.

The work of making greater connections with the Israeli peace movement had already begun before the current EAPPI Israel Team started its efforts. A survey was conducted in June by two Swedish researchers. The goal of the work, commissioned by the EAPPI and the Swedish Council of Churches, was to list the Israeli organizations which would fit the EAPPI criteria. The result of this survey was a comprehensive list of Israeli organizations with which the EAPPI could work. So, we have an excellent guide to follow.

Last Wednesday, when Israelis were preparing for their New Year — Rosh Hashanah — they were startled to see in the newspapers a letter signed by 25 Israel Air Force pilots declaring their intention to refuse to carry out targeted attacks to assassinate leaders of "terrorist" organizations in the occupied territories. This letter came as a profound shock to the Israeli society because the Air Force pilots are an elite group — the pride of the nation. Many of the alumni occupy important positions in business, government, and politics. In the letter, they said, "We, who were taught to love Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in attacks on civilian population centres. It is immoral and unjustifiable." The Jerusalem Post, which is owned by a former Canadian, Lord Black, of course, was full of condemnation of the action by those pilots.

I think my temporary assignment in Jerusalem is particularly important and interesting for me, because many Canadians do not realize how diverse opinions in the Israeli population are. It is refreshing to hear vigorous debates and disputes on public policies, or even a severe criticism of the actions of the military. Meanwhile, in Canada, there are those who call us anti-Semites whenever we criticize the Israeli government over actions we believe to be violations of human rights or international laws. These critics so often intimidate us. We very often criticize our own government or the United States. But we love Canada and we are not anti-American or racists. Likewise, we believe that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is wrong, not just for Palestinians, but also for Israel. We meet many Israelis who believe likewise.

For all the above-mentioned reasons, it is so helpful to meet with groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights. They have asked us to participate in their project to profile the Palestinian families whose homes are earmarked for demolition, often for the purpose of expanding the settlements in the occupied territories. They want to use the material to let the Israeli public know how morally wrong the occupation is. Often, they take direct actions. For example, when they know about the imminent arrival of a bulldozer, they stay with the family in their home. They think that the presence of EAs is particularly useful because Israelis are not permitted to enter certain areas of the occupied territories.

"Women in Black" is another major player in the Israeli peace movement. It was started by Israeli women in January 1988. They wore black and started to demonstrate every week, on the same day of the week and at the same time in the city centre, often at a major intersection. They silently carry placards that say, "End the Occupation." They are like the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" in Argentina. Those Israeli women are still maintaining their demonstrations, now often joined by men. Of course, "Women in Black" is everywhere in the world today, demonstrating against violence on women, poverty, war, racism, and many other justice issues. I joined them once in Ottawa in a demonstration against homelessness.

Recently, an activist in "Women in Black" facilitated the formation of the "Coalition of Women for a Just Peace" with some Jewish and Palestinian feminist organizations. There are several member organizations already. "Women in Black" and Bat Shalom are two of which I have known for some time. This group is a mix of Zionist and Non-Zionist organizations but they are united in their call to end the occupation and negotiate a just solution. Most of them are volunteer organizations. Only Bat Shalom (Daughters of Peace) has an office and staff. They want EAs to participate in demonstrations. So, we went with them to Tulkarem to demonstrate against the separation wall. Palestinian partners did the same on the other side. Several "Women in Black" went to the wall, and presented the symbolic gifts of school supplies through a gap on the barrier. Bat Shalom, because it has an office, is willing to accept the services of interns and volunteer office helpers. That could be something that EAs can provide. Otherwise, EAs can always participate in demonstrations to show the solidarity of the worldwide Ecumenical community.

Some people may complain that those Israeli activists represent such a small minority of the whole population. I don”t believe in this assumption. I believe that the size of peace-loving people is quite large. Even if it is a tiny minority, so what? Have I seen any of the social justice issues The United Church of Canada advocated winning a landslide victory in the ballot box? We have inherited the tradition of the prophets. And they were more often than not in the wilderness. Listening to Gila of "Women in Black" under a huge leafy tree in a Jerusalem park, munching a falafel sandwich, or sipping spicy sweet tea made by farmer Ahmed under an olive tree waiting forever for a gate to open in Jayyous, I can assure all that we love peace and each other. There is hope, even here in Israel or in Palestine. There is hope.

Tad
On Shabbat of Rosh Hashanah
Jerusalem

Arrested (September 25)

Living in Jerusalem, one can almost forget that there is a conflict and an occupation going on. But in the blink of an eye, the reality of the situation can rear its ugly head. One such reminder occurred recently right outside the EAPPI office, driving home the reality of what it can be like to be a Palestinian even in Jerusalem.

My Swedish colleague, Klaus, and I had just come out of our morning briefing and were on the way to our rooms to pick up some things for our next appointment. We were crossing from our offices to the other side of the road where the guest house is located when we heard a loud commotion. We looked down the hill to where the noise was coming from and saw a man clinging to an iron fence while three Border Policemen were trying to pry his hands loose. We both rushed down the hill to see what the problem was.

We were astonished when we realized that we knew this unlucky individual. It was Murad†, who works in the building where our Jerusalem office is located. Klaus and I tried to talk to the policemen, but they ignored us completely and kept shouting something in Hebrew. These three officers continued trying to extricate Murad from the fence and into their military jeep.

Murad looked absolutely petrified and he was turning blue with fear. The shouting grew louder and the sight of machine guns loomed ominously. We didn”t know what to do so we backed off. Murad finally gave in to the fatigue and was taken into custody. As soon as the jeep disappeared down the hill, Tom Connors†, Murad”s boss, ran out of the office building. Tom was sure that Murad”s work documents, his "papers," were all in order. Palestinians from the occupied territories need special documents in order to work in Jerusalem; otherwise they are subject to arrest.

Later, as Klaus and I were rushing to our appointment in a taxi, we discussed the overpowering feelings of guilt we felt about our helplessness in such a desperate situation. Just at that moment, Tom called asking us to meet him at the police station so that we could be witnesses for Murad”s defence. We welcomed the opportunity to come to his aid.

Robert†, who also works for Tom and is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic, was already waiting for us when we got to the police station. He told us that the police were charging Murad with assault of the law enforcement officers. "That”s a lie," I said to myself. We saw the incident and, more importantly, we know Murad. Hitting a police man? Never! We went to the entrance and asked to see Murad but they only let Robert go in after a thorough check of his papers.

So, Klaus and I waited outside for Tom. He eventually arrived and we went to the entrance together. "No way!" shouted the policeman. "The man you arrested is my employee, I must see him," said Tom. "No, you can”t. Go, just go!" he shouted in response. His behaviour was just like that of the three officers who took Murad away. "Can I see your superior officer?" Tom asked. "I am the superior officer!" he replied. This seemed to be a blatant lie since the superior officer would not be guarding the entrance. Tom decided to use another approach and called his attorney.

We waited outside for about 40 minutes, the young policemen continually looking at us from inside. It must have been a rare sight to see three foreigners standing outside of the police station. Then, Murad came out with Robert, looking tired but smiling. "I threatened to bring serious charges against the police, and told them that I had two witnesses who saw it all," Robert said in explaining the startling turn of events.

I have never personally seen any police force act so ruthlessly and without any regard for individual rights in my life. "It”s like a bad comedy — a caricature of a police state," Klaus said. But we saw it all happen right in front of us.

Tad Mitsui

† Names changed for this report

Meeting with Bishop Munib Younan

August 26, 2003 in Jerusalem

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Bishop Younan focussed on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and then expanded his presentation by discussing some of the pressing political and religious issues. The section on the EAPPI can be divided into the role of the different denominations, the program”s origins and the role of the Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs). The political and religious discussion can be broken down into the cause of the conflict, the Christian position, the "Wall," Fundamentalism, and the continued Christian presence in the Holy Land.

The EAPPI
Denominations
Bishop Younan was very interested in our denominations in order to determine which churches are sending Ecumenical Accompaniers. He expressed happiness that the Catholic Church is starting to send members.

Origins
The Accompaniment Program began with the call of the local churches to the World Council of Churches. The local churches requested no more statements but instead that people come to "be with us." The EAPPI is administered by the WCC but the ownership belongs to the local churches. The EAPPI was modeled after successful programs in South Africa, Nicaragua, etc.

Role
The role of the EA is to see the truth. The EA is pro-justice. It is important to work with Israeli NGOs so that the program will be seen as balanced. The injustices will be seen quickly once volunteers begin their assignments. Advocacy not activism is expected. EAs see what is happening in order to report to the world what the Palestinians cannot report. The program does not come easily as the Israeli government continues the attempt to deny entry to peace workers if they are thought to be pro-Palestinian. Accompaniers are the eyes, ears and voice of the Palestinian people.

Political and Religious Issues
Cause of the Problem
Suicide bombings complicate the issue because they make Israelis victims for the whole world. The Churches are against this and have stated repeatedly that only non-violence will bring peace. However, as in any violent situation, violence is a symptom of a root cause. The root cause is occupation, which is a sin against human nature. This also hurts the occupiers because they, in this case the Israelis, are living the lie of superiority. The world powers, particularly the United States, are with the Israelis. "Bush has said

After the bombing (September 19)

Jayyous Letter: After the Bombing

On [August 9] when the suicide bombers struck, we were at a farewell party for a colleague who was returning to the UK. Someone at the party said there had been a bombing today somewhere. Nobody knew anything more. We have no radio nor TV. Our only source of news is street talk. We wondered what kind of retaliatory actions the Israelis would take. But we had a nice party. It is amazing that Muslims can have so much fun and noise without booze. We all went to bed happy affirming our friendship.

Next morning, I was on the noon gate watch with my American colleague, Don. There was an unusual number of jet planes and helicopters buzzing all morning, but we did not take too much notice of it. This is a quiet and peaceful farming village. As we climbed down a dusty, rocky, twisting path between olive trees, a 4 km hike, we noticed a dozen young men lying under the olive trees waiting for the gate to open. "Why not", I said. "It”s hot. Might as well take a nap. You never know when they will show up." But this was an unusually large number of people who would take food to the field for the workers. We didn”t think too much of it and joined them under the tree. I often take a nap in this way, waiting for the jeep”s arrival. We waited and waited, and at 2 pm we decided that there was something funny going on, and phoned the Center for the Defense of Individuals–an Israeli Human Rights organization, that helps Palestinians with information about check points and gates.

We were told that all the check points and gates were closed until further notice. They never give any notice about the gates opening time; you just have to wait. I phoned the EAPPI Jerusalem office to get a bigger picture of the situation. We got the picture, and it was frightening. With the news about an extensive military action everywhere, we decided that it was hopeless to wait and told the farmers so. They started to climb 4 km uphill. Apparently, they were there at the 5:30 a.m. opening, but the military allowed only the older men through. So they were waiting under the tree hoping that they could still work in the afternoon and earn some money. Jesus didn”t speak about those who never showed up in the vineyard, so there was no biblical reference about how much they should be paid! Then a group of workers showed up on the other side of the fence and started to install speed limit signs and no entry signs. A young farmer who was still hanging around trying to learn English from us went and helped them from this side. It was the funniest sight you could imagine. But as soon as those workers disappeared over the horizon, he tore apart the signs he just helped to install. I didn”t know what to do. If he is found, he could be shot: a warning sign says so.

Fast forward three days. Don and I were on the way to Jerusalem. Per Einer, our Norwegian colleague, didn”t want to come because the news sounded too scary to travel. Besides, being a pastor from a country church, he didn”t find Jerusalem attractive. I had a meeting of WCC-EAPPI to attend for the Canadian churches. We reserved a taxi to come at 5 a.m. We thought it was early enough to get to the 9 a.m. meeting since it is only 80 km. But no, I didn”t make it. It was nearly noon when I got there.

There were two check points we knew about. But there were a few more mobile check points that were set up at random. And the checking was thorough. They took a long time to search every vehicle and asked many questions looking at ID. Crying babies, or sick persons, didn”t make any difference. Soldiers looked scared and were more rude than usual. And there was absolutely no respect. Young men treating older persons in such a rude manner is not allowed in any culture, but especially in the Middle East. What amazes me every time I go through the check points in the Occupied Territories is the stoic way people endure such ill treatment. I would lose my temper much sooner than these people, and I am not known for my short temper. I can also imagine how much anger they are piling up inside. And this has been going on for how many years?

Jerusalem was chaotic. Cars and people were bottled up on every street corner in East Jerusalem. I didn”t have time to go to West Jerusalem, so I didn”t see what the atmosphere was like. The German Colony section where the second bomber struck is an area I often visited. This is because, ironically, it is where many Israeli peace groups have their offices and they are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

I was glad to be back in Jayyous. But how long can peace last under such abusive conditions with the fence and the gates? I wonder what will happen when olive harvest time comes? They need hundreds of day workers to pick olives. Can they go through the gate? How long would it take to check that many IDs? Or do the Israelis intend to let the crop fail? The Palestinians have already been told that from yesterday on anyone who stays in the field overnight will be arrested. Is this a signal that the harvest is not going to happen? We decided to test their will by having some of us to stay overnight with the farmers. Tonight, Per Einer is out there. I wonder what will happen? Olive harvest is in the middle of October.

Till next time, peace, salaam, shalom!

Tad Mitsui

Thou Salt Not Kill, Never (September 18)

Once in my life I wanted to kill someone. Only once. I was twelve. I am glad that I was a coward; it would have been suicidal if I had done what I really wanted to do.

My father was a minister of the Methodist Church in the busiest part of downtown Tokyo. The second world war had just ended and the Allied Occupation Forces had just landed in Japan, most of them being Americans. One Sunday, after the worship service, my father came down the aisle and stood by the door to greet the congregation with his Geneva gown still on. Two young GI”s passed by and started to push my dad around saying something like, "Monkey playing priest." They looked like boys just out of high school. I was so angry, I wanted to kill them. Cowardice stopped me — or should it be called something else. I have forgiven them now that I have reached an understanding of the effect a weapon gives a person of a false sense of authority and power, especially when it is in the hand of an immature person.

I see a similar situation too often at check points every time I travel from Jayyous to Jerusalem. There are three, sometimes more depending on the situation. People are often bullied and insulted regardless of their age and gender at check points. I am sure some of them must belong to the young soldiers” grandparents” generation. I am sure that the Israel Defence Force does not train troops to be bullies. There are some rotten apples like this in any society they say. That may be the case but there are a too many of them to call them "a few exceptions." I got talking to one of the soldiers who said, "You never know which one is a suicide bomber." He was scared. True, but wouldn”t the way they treat people make them even more angry? Many of them have to get to work or to write an exam. The occupation of one people by another gives a false sense of authority and power especially to many immature occupiers, like the ones who bullied my father.

Another problem of occupation is the psychological damage to the occupiers. One feminist activist in an Israeli peace organization once told me that she was really worried about the damage caused by the occupation to the minds of generations of Israeli young people. "It is creating generations of racists. The noble ideals of Zionism based on Judaism are lost. So then, what”s the point of a Jewish State?", she asks. And she conclueded, "This is why I belive that the occupation of the Palestinian territories must end for the sake of Israelis as well."

When I was in Lesotho teaching at the University we sometimes went to South Africa for shopping. It was during the Apartheid days. We”d ususally part ways to do whatever we needed to do as soon as we entered the city of Bloemfontein. But one day, the reality dawned on me about Apartheid society. After having lunch in a fast food joint, I found my colleague drinking water from a hose in a park. He had no place to sit down to eat nor drink in the city. All eateries were for whites only. I was an "honorary white" not because I was a Canadian but because I was Japanese. Black persons could buy food at a take out counter and eat sitting on the grass. Benches were for whites only. One of my colleagues at the time was Desmod Tutu. My shopping mate that day was not Desmond but he was equally brilliant and dignified. I felt ashamed. I don”t know why. Apartheid was not my fault. But I guess everybody must feel ashamed to live in a society which insults personal dignity. I feel the same every time I am at a check point or at a gate. I feel ashamed that we allow such a society to exist, that renders indignity to people. I agree with the Israeli feminist peace activist–it is against the belief of Judaism, but also, I would add, against Islam and Christianity.

I do admire those people who patiently wait for their turns to have their ID”s checked for what seems like hours on end. They have been doing it for years, for as long as the occupation. Anger must be piling up inside along with many other calamities of occupation like house demolitions, land confiscations, etc. Even then, I don”t condone suicidal killings of innocent people. But retaliatory actions by the military, which inevitably cause "colateral damage" of innocent people can not be justified either. Violence triggers more violence, and a spiral of violence accelelates in its downward descent. And there is no end in sight. And this is Holy Land? Perhaps we should learn from those people who have endless patience on the check point queues. They are truly brave people–not those who are misled by a few twisted minds and kill others and themslves. Perhaps we should learn from those Israelis, scared at the randomness of bombings as others may be, who speak against the occupation and for human rights for every person. They are courageous people because the cause of peace is less and less popular among ordinary Israelis just like in the United States since 9/11 where it is thought that those peace activists are traitors.

Unless, God forbid, by some cruel accident of history either of the unthinkable things happens — ethnic cleansing of Palestnian people or the elimination of Jewish state–the future of the region lies in a paeceful co-existence of two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians. In order for that to become reality, they have to start living as friends and neighbors. But at the present time, they are moving in the exact opposite direction. The first step could be, stop killing people. Retaliatory killings are not working. One side could be so brave, to blink first and miss a beat and stop. Both sides at the same time will be so much better off of course.

Tad Mitsui

What happend on the day after the suicide bombings (September 16, 2003)

Today, two grown men cried. Don and I had the noon watch at the farmers” gate. Noon is the time when family members take food to those who work on the other side, in case they cannot come back. We were there until 4:00 p.m., but the gate never opened. Don is a minister of the United Church of Christ in the USA.

At two o”clock, we became seriously concerned about those waiting at the gate, three on the other side with one donkey, and about a dozen young men and a tanker truck on this side. So Don phoned the Center for the Defence of Individuals (HAMOKED an Israeli Human Rights organization, to find out what was going on. They said that because of the two suicide bombs last night, a widespread armed forces operation was being conducted and that all the check points and all the gates were shut completely. I phoned the Jerusalem EAPPI office to find out about the events after the bombing. What I heard explained all those jet plane and helicopter noises we had been hearing since early morning.

The young men gave up and went home. Apparently in the morning, when many farmers were going to work, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had allowed only the older men to go through. So those young men had been waiting since early morning. A young man and a tanker truck driver remained waiting, hoping beyond hopelessness. The young man was carrying food for his relatives, and the tanker truck was for those machines which ran out of fuel. At 3:00 p.m., the young man made a fire and boiled water for tea, collecting all of our canteen water. It was good to have sweet spiced tea under the hot sun in the shade of an olive tree. But the situation looked hopeless. The donkey was protesting on the other side, trying vainly to lie down and have a nice scratch on the back. The old farmer was having a hard time keeping the poor animal standing with a full load of guava and tomatoes. We sent tea to the other side and threw some pita bread over the fence. He threw some guava to us. It was a picnic. I do not understand how they manage to keep a sense of humour in such a cruel and desperate situation. But they”ve been at it for a long time. At about 4:00 pm, Don and I gave up and started to climb the hill-4 km climb-for a shower and supper.

About half way up, we ran into an old farmer with a mule going down. Don tried to explain to him in his elementary Arabic that the gates were closed and would never be opened today. He looked completely lost. A "what-the -hell-am-I-supposed-to-do" look needed no translation. He stood there looking at us for a long time. Then he looked up, pointing a finger upwards, and said, "Inshala–God willing." When we started to climb again, tears formed in my eyes and I didn”t know what to do. But I noticed that Don took his glasses off and wiped them on his shirt. He was crying, too. We looked at each other and decided without words that it was okay to cry. So we did.That was the day after the suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Tad Mitsui

Torture is useless

BRING OMER KHADR BACK TO CANADA

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I think that the United Church is doing the right thing asking people to urge the Federal government to request the U.S. to send Omer Khadr back to Canada. The Guantanamo Bay military justice process is so flawed that few people expects that justice will ever been done.

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The military judge at Guantanamo Bay was right when he threw out the evidence obtained under duress. It gives me a ray of hope to hear this news from a questionable process which many people dismiss as a sham designed to convict the accused rather than to render justice.

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Another strong argument against obtaining information by torture is: it is unreliable. (The Economist, July 19 Special Report on al-Qaeda, p.10) It is no use as a information gathering method. Many people would say anything just to get out of agony. I know this: I was there. No, I was not tortured, but it was enough to guess what is likely to happen in the mind of a person, who is being tortured.

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In 1971 during Apartheid days, I was detained at Johannesburg Airport (then was called Jan Smuts Airport) for three days. At a passport control counter, the officer looked at my passport and at some kind of a list, and asked me to follow him. I was taken to a bed room in a building adjacent to the terminal and told me to wait. He locked the room and went away. Nobody came back for three days except a scared looking black man who brought stale food from time to time. There was a washroom. There was a window but it faced a brick wall. It was not a prison cell, but it could have been albeit a comfortable one. No radio, no TV, nor anything to read.

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I had no idea why I was kept there. I went mad. I was most worried about my seven year old daughter who was waiting for me to make supper at home. Her mother went to a conference and I was to look after her from that afternoon. I would have said anything just to get out. I am not a coward but not brave enough to withstand such a mental torture. I guess most of the ordinary people are like me. So, what’s the point of forcing people to say anything? They would say anything just to get out of the situation. Torture is not only illegal, but it is useless.

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After three days, I was told to pick up my car parked at a friend’s house and get out of South Africa in two hours.

South Africa – a success story despite violence against foreigners

Re: Violence in South Africa (Gwynne Dyer, Page A8 of the Lethbridge Herald, May 25, 2008)

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We just came back this weekend from one month trip to Lesotho, Southern Africa, where I taught at a university for seven and a half years during the seventies, and South Africa, which kicked me out forty years ago. I wanted to look up former colleagues and students and old friends. (Desmond Tutu and Njaburo Ndebele now Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, amongst others. I could not see them because there were too busy understandably.) They and many others have done so much for the country and are well respected. South Africa is a success story. Transformation is remarkable. I could not recognize Soweto, for example.

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Because the country’s economy is thriving, many foreigners are pouring in. And the government is very generous and does no stop them. Many VIP’s are remembering the days when all African countries accepted all South African refugees during the Apartheid days. Industries love them too, keeping the wages down. The cook of the guest house we stayed in Johannesburg was from Malawi, and the guide who took us around Soweto was a former priest from Congo, etc. They are about four million people in a country of 47 million. They make poor South Africans angry, because they think they rob them of government funded housing and welfare money. But the country itself and industries are not unhappy with them. This is why Thabo Mbeki, President, apologized to the foreigners last Friday. Doesn’t it sound familiar in many other well-to-do countries?

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It is true that HIV-AIDS scourge is serious. But unlike our media bias letting us to think that the government is avoiding the issue, the campaign against the pandemic is very vigorous. All in all, South Africa is a success story. I’d love to go back.

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May 25, 2008

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Lethbridge, Alberta

CHEAP FOOD THAT KILLS

CHEAP FOOD THAT KILLS

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I am old enough to remember the days in Japan where "you are fat" (Kappuku ga yii desune) was a great compliment. Few people could afford to gain weight so much during those days. "Kappuku" was a rare physical feature only successful people were able to acquire. Nowadays the buzz is about the menace of obesity. An alarmingly large percent of people are officially obese, and obesity causes many killer diseases. At the same time, tens of thousands of people die everyday elsewhere in the world because they don’t have enough to eat. What is going on?

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The basic problem is: some people eat too much because food is cheap. Only rich countries in Americas and Europe can produce food cheaply because of factory farming. But industrial farming has destroyed self-sufficiency in food production in Africa, as well as our own family farms in Canada. In the process of making foods cheap, they have become tasteless and unhealthy, even poisonous. That’s why there is more obesity among poorer people who can afford only cheap processed foods.

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Making food cheap may be a good idea, if it produces high quality foods and makes them accessible to all income groups. But this hasn’t happened. If it makes you eat too much and eventually kills you, what’s the point.

Survival of the fittest must not be a norm for society

I REJECT THE WAY SOME PEOPLE USE DARWIN’S THEORY OF EVOLUTION TO JUSTIFY EXPLOITATION OF THE DISADVANTAGED AND THE WEAK

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I must confess I have not actually read "Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin. But , according to what I heard of his theory of evolution, I do accept that the present form of life and universe came into being as he explained it.

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Some Christians reject the whole of Charles Darwin’s idea, because it is not the same as the way the Book of Genesis described the origin of the world. But I accept Darwin, and I consider myself to be a Christian. Our difference comes from two distinct ways the Bible is interpreted: some people read it literally and others do it metaphorically. I for one do not think that the writers of the Bible never intended their writings to be history nor science. But the disagreement among Christians does not bother me that much. The world is here and I am here, and we are doing just fine, thank you very much. We can debate the different understandings of how the world came into being as long as we want, so long as it does not harm the present. It is like: when I use computer, I don’t know how it is made and how it works. But I know how to use it, and that’s just fine with me. I don’t care even if you say that a monkey made it, so long as my computer works and does what I want it to do.

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However, some people use the dictum of the theory of evolution, "Survival of the fittest" to justify unrestrained use of market force for the benefit of the rich and the powerful. Darwin was a biologist, not an economist. You can not apply the theory of evolution to justify exploitation of the disadvantaged and the weak, because they are less fit. This is why I reject an unrestrained application of the principles of the market. I believe that the disadvantaged and the weak must be protected from the tyranny of the rich and the powerful. In the same token, we have to stop the destruction of nature by an unfettered use of science and technology. Many people who do not accept the danger of global warming say that it’s a cyclical phenomenon: it comes and goes. The universe has gone through that many times, hot and cold, extinction and survival/emergence of new species. We will go out of existence eventually and someone else takes over. It’s the law of nature, they say. I don’t accept that. We believe in compassion. Compassion rejects "survival of the fittest" as a norm for society. It is the shared value of many religions and humanists.

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Tad Mitsui

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1264 8th Avenue South, Lethbridge, AB, T1J 1R1

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May 27, 2007

Torture is ineffective.

TORTURE IS NOT AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO OBTAIN INFORMATION

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In 1972, I was detained for three days before being expelled from South Africa. It was during the bad old days of Apartheid. From that experience, I can tell a few things about what North American and Western European countries are doing in the name of national security nowadays.

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Information given under duress is unreliable. I was not tortured. But extreme anxiety alone was enough psychological torture. My 7 years old daughter was waiting for me alone at home without knowing what happened to daddy: this factor alone was enough for me to say anything to get out. I am a coward, and suspect many people are. Meher Arar’s so called confession in a Syrian Prison was a good example. He is not a coward. And yet he was tortured and signed on a paper full of false information. If "national security" is so important, why do security apparatus’ continue to use such an unreliable method?

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Indefinite detention without charge, physical and psychological torture, etc. all sound exactly like what we heard during the days of oppressive regime under Apartheid in South Africa. The whole world condemned South Africa for that. National Security was the holy grail of the day. You could get away with anything for the cause of national security. Does that sound familiar? It does, because we hear the same language every day.

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Do they have to do all this in the name of freedom and democracy?

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Basic problem is: they never ask why. Of course, I condemn terrorism, indiscriminate killing of innocent people always has to be condemned. But if we don’t ask why they do such horrible things and address the root causes, many measures we take would be mere band-aid or Aspirin. We will never resolve the problem.

ARE COCKROACHES MORE INTELLIGENT THAN US?

ARE COCKROACHES SUPERIOR LIFE FORM THAT US?

In 1968, I went to Lesotho in Southern Africa to teach at an university with a newly minted graduate degree proudly tucked under my belt. I was full of myself confident about my ability to help solve all the problems of Africa. One dry hot summer day, after brazenly tearing around many a mountain road in my Land Rover, I was rushing to go home hot, hungry, thirsty, and tired. I saw this old man, with only a piece of rag on his back resting his hands and the chin on a crooked walking stick, sitting on a rock by the road. He looked tired, almost sickly. Of course, I stopped the car and offered him a ride like all good missionaries should do. But he waived his hands and said, “U tsamaea ‘utate. Ke emela moea.” Meaning something like, “Go away young man. I walked a long way today. I am waiting here for my spirit to catch up with me.” I thought, “What a stupid old man. That’s why Africa is so backward.”

Only recently, it dawned on me that I was the stupid one, and he was the one with true wisdom. He could teach us a thing or two, if we want to save our planet from destruction.

He might have died in a few years from malnutrition. His people had never contributed to scientific advancement significantly, neither did they contributed to any technological break through. But they never invented weapons of mass destruction, neither did they caused extinction of any species. I am sure, it was the wisdom of my old African friend on the mountain road that God gave us when we were created in God’s image , not the know-how to exploit and manipulate God given nature. In fact, wasn’t it the fruit of the tree of knowledge that God forbade us to eat? We have some element of knowledge, but have not got the wisdom to distinguish what is good and bad. What we have is like a beautiful piece of marvel of technology like Ferrari, but do not know how to handle it nor where to go with it. We may be speeding towards a cliff of Grand Canyon.

During the height of a dollar a litre gas last summer, a car was seen going around and round a city block. A man asked the driver if he could help if he was lost. He answered, “Thanks. But I know where I’m going. A cheapest gas in town just over there. I’m trying to use up a bit of gas left in the tank, so I can fill it.” Some of us are like that. We think we are very clever, but not really. We may know a lot of things, but not necessarily are wise.

We believe that we are the most advanced form of life. After all God created us in his image. We have the most advanced science and technology no other creature ever possessed. But from greed and vanity the way we are going full speed ahead into self-destruction using whatever we possess, could be much more foolish than the man who is in search of cheap gas. A cartoon on the Globe and Mail two Saturdays ago had it that a doctor talking to a figure of a planet earth on the examination table, “The bad news is you’ve got advanced-stage humans. The good news is they’ve just about run their course and you should be on the mend soon.” If our knowledge and achievements are driving our planet into catastrophe due to environmental degradation and constant warfare, are we really that advanced and better than other creatures?

A 19th century historian and philosopher, Arnold Tynbee, once said that if human race continued to wage wars on each other for the reason of doctrinal and religious differences, for national interests, or for wealth, probably better organized societies of ants and bees would survive long after humans disappeared.

Dinosaurs had existed for several hundred millions of years before they became extinct. But I was surprised to find at the Insect Museum in Montreal: I was confronted with the fact that cockroaches had existed millions of years before dinosaurs. And they are still with us. David Suzuki predicted that if we continue to destroy life-sustaining environment at the current rate, humans will be just a hiccup in the history of the planet compared to dinosaurs and cockroaches. Our history of existence on this planet is less than a mere one million years. Are cockroaches more intelligent than we are? They know how to survive.

We have to think deeply what it means to say that we were created in God’s image. Is it just a wishful fantasy of our ancestors? Or is it the truth? If it is the truth, we have to prove it in short order. We don’t have hundreds of millions of years like dinosaurs had, to prove that they were not. We have only a few decades to prove that we are better than cockroaches. We owe it to our children and grand-children to do it. We have to stop our cars and computers, and sit and wait for our spirits to catch up with us. Or do we even know where our spirits are? That is a good question.

March 8, 2007

PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND

PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND

May I convey “Mazel Tov” to all who are celebrating Hahukah, and “Merry Christmas” to those who await for Christmas!

Israelis greet each other saying, “Shalom.” Palestinians greet each other, “Salaam.” Both words mean, “Peace”. Those words mean much more than mere absence of conflict. I am not a scholar of Semitic language, but I know another language of nomads better. It is a word for peace in the language called Sesotho in which I preached and taught in Africa. It has many similarities with the Arabic and Hebrew word for peace. It is one of the Bantu languages in Southern Africa, and is the mother tongue of Nelson Mandela and my former colleague at a University, Desmond Tutu.

When the Basotho meet, they greet each other saying “Khotso” with by raising both hands like an act of capitulation. They mean, “I come in peace.” After dinner, the hostess would ask you if you are well fed and happy using the same word, “Uena ka khotso?” “Are you satisfied, happy?” Not only do they wish the guests a peaceful state with happy stomachs, but also they believe that everyone is entitled to this state of affairs. So all Basotho children are taught to set aside some portion of dinner for unexpected guests who may show up at the door hungry. In other words, Khotso means both peace and justice. Where there is no justice, there is no peace. The search for peace in the Middle East must also be the search for justice.

I have been struggling with the question of peace in the Middle East for more than two decades. Positions seem to be so polarized that there does not seem to be a compromise nor a middle ground. One is always accused of being biased for one side or the other. I am often tempted to get away from it all. But I can’t, not only because of many friends in Israel and Palestine to whom I owe loyalty, but also to my Jewish son-in-law and two grand-daughters, who are half Jewish. Israel is important to them, so is it to me.

A revelation came to me during my last extended stay in Jerusalem and in a Palestinian village called Jayyous near Jenin in 2003. It was: there are people on both sides who are on the grass roots level working for justice for all. Daniel Barenboim for example is the world renown Israeli conductor of Berlin Symphony Orchestra. He is a Zionist but also a friend of Palestinians. He comes often to Ramalah to to teach at the Conservatory of Music. Another is Rabbi Erik Aschermann, a committed Zionist, who is Director of the Rabbis For Human Rights in Jerusalem. He and I picked olives together with many Isareli volunteers for Palestinian farmers when the gates on the wall opened only a short time during the harvest. It is without saying those Israeli peace activists work together with Palestinian counterparts. Obviously they were firmly against violence. They believe that peace can come only when Israelis and Palestinians become friends and good neighbours. They believe that it was the only way for both Israelis and Palestinians to survive in the region. They could not live as enemies forever. They must live as friendly neighbors. I saw hope in those peace activists on both Arab and Jewish communities. They may be small in number, but they are showing the way of a peaceful future.

There are other examples: There is a village called Neve Shalom, South-West of Jerusalem made up of a few hundred Arab and Israeli families. The children go to the same village school and the village council is represented by members from both communities. It’s existed for three decades.

During my 2003 stay in Jayyous, when I was on the gate watch to make sure human rights were observed and violence would not erupt, I always had a telephone number of an organization called HAMOKED handy. It’s an Israeli human right organization made up of Israeli and Palestinian volunteers. They help people with difficulties created by Israeli occupation of the West Bank with reliable information. Whenever the platoon of soldiers didn’t appear and the gate remained shut, I called Hamoked to find out why. They phoned around their network of informers and called back to tell me what the hold up was. Knowing the reason for delay, people calmed down and regained their composure.

A women’s organization called Bat Shalom (Daughters of Peace) form an alliance of women called Jerusalem Link. Their partner is a Palestinian women’s group called Palestinian Women’s Centre based in Qalandia between Jerusalem and Ramallah. They work together to in human rights and political advocacy. Women in Black demonstrate on every Thursday at noon in the centre of Jerusalem wearing black dresses and carrying cardboard signs. The sign says, “End Occupation.” They believe Israeli occupation of the West Bank is bad for the survival of Israel, because it is making more Palestinians enemies of Israel, and preventing them from being friends. I met a Montreal born veteran of Israeli Air Force, Moshe Altman, again a very committed Zionist, who represented an organization of Israeli veterans helping young soldiers to refuse to serve in the occupation forces. They are not conscientious objectors. They believe that the occupation is illegal therefore it is morally correct to refuse the order. They automatically go to jail for a few months, and suffer insults from the public. They call themselves “Yesh Gvul – Enough.”

I see a sign of hope in these Israeli movements, who believe that making friends with Palestinians is the only way for peace. They are constantly betrayed by their own people. It is not easy. But they are a light in the darkness. Theirs’ is the way of prophets.

December 21, 2006

At the Southern Alberta Council for Public affairs

 

 

What I learned from life-long justice work

A CONFESSION OF A JUSTICE FREAK

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I learned a few lessons from my involvement in justice work. It began in Vancouver in 1958 fighting for justice for Japanese Canadians. It continued in South Africa, and Palestine.

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These are the lessons I learned:

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1. Justice will prevail eventually, no matter how hopeless the situation may look. Ian Smith, Rhodesian Prime Minister, who declared unilateral independence of white ruled country illegally, said, "Majority rule will never come next year, in ten years…. not in my life time." But the majority rule did come. Apartheid was demolished, too. During the mid-seventies’ I regularly attended the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on behalf of an international N.G.O. During those days, the Commission had three regular items on the agenda: they were dictatorships in South Korea* and Chile, and Apartheid in South Africa. They are all gone.

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* Many people forget that South Korea was under dictatorship for many years until Kim Dae Jung was elected President.

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Justice will prevail.

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2. However, justice work is hard work. Not many people love you when you are a prophet, because you say things that are hard for many people to accept. Remember the days when anti-Apartheid and disarmament movements were thought to be communist inspired, because we were saying things inconvenient to industries. And we were attacked in the media. Government bureaucracy and politicians looked at us with suspicion. It felt hopeless. The struggle seemed to have lasted forever. Prophets do not produce visible results when you want. When advocacy work does not produce results, you must remember many prophets of old mostly remained a voice in the wilderness. But that didn’t shut them up.

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Justice work can be a lonely work. Prophets were lonely.

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3. Even when some goals of justice seem realized, be prepared to be disappointed Look at Zimbabwe now. I almost regret the euphoria of 1980 when the first democratic election was held in Zimbabwe. I was so happy in March, 1980, when general election was held in Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe was created with Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister and Canaan Banana as President. Soon enough Mugabe brought in North Korean army and slaughtered Matabele in the south, and deposed Banana to become President himself. Euphoria soon dies down as human reality sets in. Do not expect a perfect resolution when an apparent system of injustice is eradicated. Humans do not bring about a panacea. God alone realizes justice ultimately. As soon as the first democratic election was over in 1994, Desmond Tutu warned of new black elitism. "Any black man with a house will be the next target," he said.

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Our justice work is an ongoing process. God only brings ultimate justice.

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4. When one is engaged in the work for justice, one must make sure that one is firmly grounded on a spiritual foundation. A struggle for justice without a spiritual base leads to inhumanity. In 1971, I was horrified to hear venomous language of hatred at a students’ anti-government rally in Lesotho, when the defeated government declared the election nul and void, and established South Africa supported dictatorship. Because you see injustice around you all the time, you are rightly angry a lot of times. And anger can overtake you. Anger makes you hate enemies. But you realize that justice and hatred are oxymoron. Justice work must be motivated by compassion and love, not by hatred. Also if you are angry a lot of times, you will pay an enormous price personally and in your relationships. Anger and hatred destroy you and your relationship with your loved ones.

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Only by compassion and love can we participate in God’s work for justice. It’s a spiritual work.

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5. Injustice hates justice. So, justice work inevitably begets martyrs. Isn’t that the story of Jesus? Several friends of mine died in South Africa and in the Middle East; people like Steve Biko and Kameel Nassr. All the friends who died in the struggle for justice loved life. True martyrs never seek deaths. To call a suicide bomber a martyr is a completely wrong usage of the word. Jesus did not commit suicide. He prayed for the cup to pass him by. But sacrifice is inevitable in justice work. It’s not a fashionable game for a middle class.

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Justice work is serious. There is a price to pay. But it is not suicidal, because it is based on love of life, of oneself and of others.

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October 24, 2006

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Lethbridge, Alberta

STOPE THE WAR – LEBANON, 2006

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STOP THE WAR

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I am certain of one thing. Both Israel and Hezbollah must stop killing civilians immediately. Of course, Israel must defend itself. When Prime Minister Harper affirmed the right of the state of Israel, I would have agreed with him if the action Israel was taking indeed was a "measured response." But it wasn’t and it isn’t. That is the whole problem.

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Last time Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, to drive P L O out, 14,000 Lebanese civilians died in the first three months. Israel still had to keep the occupation of Southern Lebanon for next 18 years. An alarmingly large number of Israeli troops began to die. Alarmed Israelis began to question the war in Lebanon and started the Israeli peace movement with such organizations as Peace Now and Women in Black, Yesh Gvul. But even then, the Israeli death were not even one tenth of the Lebanese.

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During the first Israeli war in Lebanon, I was in Beirut in 1984 to attend a donors’ conference to help Lebanon recover from devastation. I still remember the scene of bombed out crumbled buildings and houses everywhere even in small villages in the mountains, like the ones you see on the TV today. One thing that stuck in my mind was the trees, which used to line the beautiful streets of Beirut, like Champ d’Elysee in Paris. Indeed, Beirut used to called "Paris of the Middle East." All the trees I saw from the airport into downtown had no tops. All of them were still standing but cut down to 20 ft from the ground. It was bizarre. It was the result of the intense naval bombardment. Palestinians lived, in the refugee camps near the airport, in the camp called Sabra and Shatila. But bombardment was aimed at downtown Beirut. I don’t think that the deaths among Palestinians was anywhere as many as that of Lebanese.

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The same thing is happening now. It was reported that the deaths among Lebanese reached the 1000 mark this last week, mostly among civilians. Not as many Hezbollah fighters have died relative to civilian casualties. Yes, the death toll among Israeli civilian is alarmingly large, but it still is less than 10% of the number of Lebanese victims. On the average, the rate of foreign casualties as the result of the Israeli military action has always been about 10 times that of the Israeli casualties.

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The use of a disproportionately overwhelming fire power for a short period of time has always been a norm of the Israeli military strategy since 1967. It was used during the Six Days war 1967, and Yom Kippur war of 1973. They were successful in those two wars. But it failed miserably in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000. IDF was stuck in Southern Lebanon for 18 years and had to withdraw because of mounting casualties. When such a ferocious surgical strike does not achieve its objectives in a week, it is a failure. When a population in general turns against you, no matter how powerful your weapons are, you will eventually lose. The US learned that lesson in Viet Nam, and are learning it now in Iraq. Israel should have learned it between 1982 and 2000. Israel was stuck in the quagmire of Southern Lebanon for 18 years despite military superiority. Hezbollah came into being during this period.

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There is a saying in Japan, "Kyoso neko wo kamu." It means "if you chase a little mouse into a corner, it will bite even a big cat." . Both Hamas and Hezbollah were born as resistance against Israeli occupation, because people were cornered with nowhere to go. I watched people humiliated everyday living in a West Bank village of Jayyous for three months. Though I don’t condone the methods employed by Hezbollah, or by Hamas, I could see why a certain number of hot-heads become extremists and start scheming unorthodox – often criminal – methods to bite back like a cornered mouse. It’s a desperate act, hopeless, and criminal, but its origins are understandable.

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I advocate for the state of Israel within secure borders. My two granddaughters are both half Jewish, as a result of the union between a Japanese artist and a Jewish doctor. Imagine, if they were born 60 years ago, they could have ended up in a gas chamber. I can understand very well what 2000 years, imagine 2000 years, of rejection by the whole Christendom does to a psyche of a whole Jewish people. Israel must exist. But if this is so, then, for God’s sake, start making friends with your Arab neighbors! Let’s stop Arabs and Israelis making the whole Middle East another Balkan. Let’s do our best to help both Lebanese and Israeli to start living peaceful normal lives side by side as friends and neighbors.

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HUNGER IN THE WORLD – WHY PEOPLE STARVE?

HUNGER IN THE WORLD

The reason I claim my expertise to speak about this subject is my experience as the Coordinator of hunger relief for the World Council of Churches during the 1984 – 1989 famine in Africa. About one million people died in Ethiopia alone. It was the result of unprecedented drought that lasted four years.

The worst natural disaster was the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 which killed about 300,000. But there are two other causes of deaths that are more devastating than any natural disaster. One is the wars: 500 millions in four years, 1941-45 125 million @ year, 34,246 @ day) The other is hunger. 44,000 a day, or 25,000 a day die depending on the way counting is made. That is 100 Jumbo jets crash and kill everyone on board.

This is quite a contrast to the western statistics that indicate that main causes of death is attributed to over eating or unhealthy eating, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

Why are we not paying more attention? Firstly, it is overwhelming – we can not handle it. Secondly, it is happening in the poorer parts of the world – Africa mainly, Asia, and Latin America. The solution is quite simple, actually. But we don’t want to deal with it, because it has a lot to do with our life-style and basic idea about life.

1. We must first of all forget the idea that there is not enough food in the world, therefore the solution is more food – finding ways to make more food or give food to those who have less. It is not the question of us making more food or giving more food to the hungry. The real cause of hunger is poverty. Hungry people are too poor to buy or make food. It is not the problem of availability of food but it is a problem of accessability to it.

There is plenty of food in the world. The problem is that some people can not buy it, because they can not buy it. People can make food anywhere. The problem is that they are prevented to make food because of economics and politics.

2. When I first went to look at the feeding camp in Ethiopia, I looked at a few camps in the Northern part of the country, where people were fed to recover strength. Many died, because for them it was too late. When they recover the strength, they were given some grain and seeds, and in many cases implements to start farming. Many died were farmers.

After inspecting the camps, we were taken to a hotel which stood outside of a feeding camp in Makele in Tigrey Province for lunch. We had a wonderful Italian dishes for lunch. Anyone could eat if they had money.

3. Africa suffered famine because of drought. But if they were as wealthy as we are, they didn’t have to suffer so much. The last few years of drought in Canadian Prairie was more severe that the drought in Africa. Our country is rich enough to cope with it in terms of loans, and other kinds of financing.

But African farmers remained poor because they had no saving, nor country had finance. Another factor that exacerbate the problem is the emphasis on cash crop for the country that required foreign currency. They converted food crops into coffee, sugar, peanuts, tobacco, etc. for the country to ean hard cash.

When Ethiopian farmers were starving, Ethiopia exported more food to Europe. Beef , coffee, and sugar continued to be shipped to Europe. Farmers could not buy it.

4. When good land was expropriate for cash crop, many men went to work for commercial farms. Production of food crop was left to women. They were not valued and not given credit facilities.

5. Making people getting out of poverty is the way to feed people. People need dignity to sustain themselves. We do have enough food. New seed variety or fertilizer is not the solution. Also family farms are more efficient that the large scale commercial farms.

6. I believe in supporting farmers. Japan, Switzerland, etc. We will soon have to pay more attention to water and food. Oil will not be an important factor for our survival.

 

Why terrorists do what they do?

Why we don’t ask why?

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A few questions are going around and around in my head about the arrest of 17 "home grown terrorists."

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1. Why don’t more people ask why terrorists do what they do (in this case, plan to do)? In a prevailing atmosphere of near panic in Canada, it makes us feel almost unpatriotic to ask such a question. I would have thought that it is a common sense to ask "why" criminals do what they do, if you want to prevent recurrence. Though efficient law enforcement is of utmost importance (please, no more episode like the bungling CSIS at the time of Air India bombing it alone can never be effective deterrent. You have to find the root causes, and eliminate them.

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2. Of course, terrorists should be treated like criminals. But you have to realize that many of them resort to terrorism out of their profound sense of disenfranchisement. I suspect that it’s not caused just by poverty amidst affluence (many "terrorists" come from the middle class it is by sense of alienation culturally and spiritually in the society they have made their homes. You can not stop terrorism if you don’t understand that. Strict law enforcement alone without addressing the root causes drive them to underground.

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3. Terrorists are criminals, hence they should be treated according to the normal process of the fair Canadian justice system. Extraordinary measures taken by some western governments including ours with instruments like Guatanamo or "Security Certificates" only discredit our democracy, and hatch hatred and resentment. Hatred begets further violence. I am increasingly distressed to see our county beginning to look like South Africa during the Apartheid days: indefinite detention without charges, torture, stigmatizing decent people as "subversive" simply because they belong to the same group where terrorist suspects happened to come from, etc.

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4. Most religions preach sanctity of human life, and teach believers to hate evil not persons. So killing innocent lives by terrorist acts is an act of heresy of worst kind. However, many religions do have extremists who advocate such heretical deeds as noble acts of committed believers. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikh can not escape from those heretics within. But we don’t compare Timothy McBey with Christianity. Air India bombers are apostasy of Sikh religion. A Jewish extremist who massacred Muslim worshipers in a mosque in Hebron was a criminal in Israel and does not represent Judaism. We should not think of al Qaida as representative of Islam. They are all heretics.

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5. Many religious extremist groups who resort to violence gained power as they were coopted by democratic governments for their convenience. Osma bin Laden and al Qaida began its work in Afghanistan as they were armed by the United States so they would fight Soviet Union invasion. Again the United States armed Sadam Husein during the Iran-Iraq war, because Iran was at the time worse enemy than Iraq. Hamas was helped by the Israel earlier, in order to weaken PLO under Yesser Arafat.

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6. Information gained from torture is unreliable. Speaking with my South African friends who were former detainees, many felt defeated that they told what torturers wanted to hear, truth and false, just to get out. I was detained also only for two days at Johannesburg Airport. But I am still distressed to remember that I was ready to say anything just to get out of the situation. Then, why do they continue to use such useless methods today? It only makes sense if you want to humiliate and intimidate them.

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7. Canada is a multi-cultural country, where diversity is respected. We welcome all nations around the globe to join us if they are willing to build up a tolerant society. Let us not make any segment of Canada an "enemy within" just because some people resort to violent actions.

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June 15, 2006

WHY ISRAEL MUST LEAVE WEST BANK

 

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I am looking at a picture of my three year old grand daughter. Her twinkling eyes are warning me that any time she will jump on my tummy knocking me out of consciousness. A cheeky little thing! I love her so much that any minute I live away from her is a pain. Why should she have to live in Toronto and I in Lethbridge. I love her so much that I am ready to give my life for hers. Her name is Hana. Her parents chose the name because it is both Hebrew and Japanese. It means flower in Japanese, a very common girl’s name in Japan.

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I don’t exactly know what it means in Hebrew. Her doctor Dad is a Jewish-Canadian and artist Mom, my daughter, of course, is a Japanese-Canadian. My spine freezes whenever I think of the fate of Jewish people only six decades ago. My lovely Hana would have been herded to the gas chamber for being a half-Jewish. Rise of anti-Semitism brings me a chill, no matter how remote such likelihood. But you never know. Genocide and ethnic cleansing still happen. Persecution of Jewish people by Christians lasted nearly two thousand years. I totally understand why the Jews in the world think the existence of the State of Israel, so important for their sense of well-being. I believe that Israel must exists as a Jewish state.

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Should Israel must exists, it will not be able to live with enemies on all frontiers for ever. Secure future of any state lies in a friendly relationship with neighboring states. This is why I believe that Israel must leave the West Bank and East Jerusalem as soon as possible. In order to create those settlements, Israel made the lives of Palestinians extremely difficult. Oppression begets violence, and violence begets further oppression. Thus a downward spiral of violence accelerates.

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Israeli pull out of Gaza and from four settlements in northern West Bank is a good thing, if it is a start. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is taking a big gamble. However, I am afraid that it may be too late too little. But it must succeed. It is the only way for the State of Israel to start walking toward the direction of survival. And it must, for the sake of the Jewry of the world, even for the sake of my grand daughter, little Hana.

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Tad Mitsui, Retired United Church Minister
1264 8th Avenue South
Lethbridge, Alberta T1J 1R1
403) 328 6230

LESSONS FROM DISASTERS

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Tad Mitsui

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A major disaster is still unfolding before our eyes in the media daily. But this time it is in a developed rich country – the United States of America, as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Even the richest country in the world is not spared from the fury of nature. What do we learn from disasters?

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The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia is the worst known natural disaster in human history. The number of confirmed deaths is estimated to be roughly 310,000 – 220,000 in Indonesia alone. From my experience working as the coordinator of famine relief for the World Council of Churches (WCC) during the African famine caused by unprecedented drought in the 1980s, I would like to list some lessons learned from the Tsunami tragedy, which might also be applicable in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the ’80s, I was based in Geneva, Switzerland and was trying to put some order into the relief work being done by the churches around the world. I traveled extensively in 23 African countries that were experiencing food shortage as a result of the drought. From this perspective, I came up with the following list of lessons I learned about disaster relief.

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1. People are basically good and willing to help when and where there is a need. Amid all the calamities of death and strife, there is hope in the world. Outpouring of goodwill and sympathy through monetary donations and gifts in-kind were overwhelming. Shortage of money is not a problem. For example, in 1984 the WCC initially set $100 million as the target for fund-raising. By the time the church agencies got together in Dakar, Senegal in 1986 for an interim review, the WCC community had raised more than $500 million in two years.

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2. Natural disasters are not exactly "acts of God," as the insurance industry terms them. It is not correct to term natural disasters ‘beyond our control.’ Money still helps to diminish their effects. Jesus did say, "God the Father makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." Rains fall on the poor and the rich alike. But the rich have umbrellas. In other words, the rich can afford to pay for the prevention of disasters and recovery from destruction. But poor people cannot afford these things. For example, the North Pacific has a Tsunami warning system, because it touches two of the richest countries in the world – Japan and the United States. Poor countries in the South Pacific cannot afford to spend billions of dollars for something that may or may not happen for decades. Even in a rich country like the United States, the poor, mostly African Americans, are the ones who were left behind without food and water and many of whom died, because they could not afford to evacuate to a safe place. Three decades ago, a devastating earthquake struck the Southern United States and Central America. In Nicaragua alone, several thousand people died. The same earthquake with the same ferocity struck the San Fernando Valley in California, where only several persons were killed, because of better-built housing and a better preparedness system.

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3. Money is always better than gifts-in-kind as a response to disaster. Money is flexible and thus more efficient and, in the end, cheaper. Best of all, it encourages local economy through the purchase of local products. It delivers more appropriate goods, thus bringing about a quicker recovery and return to self-sufficiency. The United States could easily have provided emergency food and other non-food necessities in Louisiana had infrastructure and organization been in place. Gifts in-kind such as food, medicine, and clothes or volunteers cost money in transportation and other administrative procedures. Gifts in-kind are good for the economy of donor countries, while monetary gifts enable self-help. Monetary gifts help maintain the dignity of victims. We forget that receiving charity is humiliating. External help should always enable and facilitate self-help programs for the victims.

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4. Competent relief organizations require money to maintain their staff and infrastructure. People often demand that their donation go directly to the victims, but it is unrealistic to demand delivery of 100% of your gifts to the victims. While you demand delivery of the donation without overhead, you want your gifts administered competently. It is totally unrealistic to expect unpaid volunteers to run an organization and pay for medical doctors, accountants, logistics officers, technicians and engineers, and the means of transportation such as boats, planes, and trucks. Good organizations always have excellent and skilled experts on the staff. We must eliminate the myth about not spending money for overhead. Of the funds raised for relief, we must expect 25 – 30 % to be budgeted for overhead.

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The churches that are connected to the World Council of Churches have a system called Action of the Churches Together (ACT based in Geneva. ACT is not well known, partly because it does not spend money on advertising. Its approach to relief is to enable the indigenous churches and organizations to do relief. Foreign intervention is limited to a minimum. This is why ACT has very low overhead.

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5. The most important and yet neglected part of disaster relief is persistence. Unfortunately, this is where most of past relief efforts have failed. People forget soon and do not fulfill their commitments or follow up with the necessary course of action. Many pledges are not fulfilled when the interest of the public wanes. Donations fall rapidly after several months, and people soon tire of hearing sad stories of the victims. If we are to help those affected to be prepared for future disasters, follow-up actions in terms of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development are very important. When the public loses interest, governments can afford to renege on their pledges. The disaster of the Bam earthquake in Iran is now long forgotten, and pledges are not even half fulfilled. That was only a few years ago.

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6.The best scenario is that, as a result of external help, the victims will not need outside help in future disasters. India declined external assistance. Normally, rich countries do not ask for foreign disaster relief. It is not only a matter of need fulfilled, but it has to do with our most important values – our dignity. This is why Hurricane Katrina is a great embarrassment and humiliation for the United States. It exposed the Third World nature of the underclass in the richest country in the world. We who live in a rich country do not understand the humiliation of having to receive charity. We must strive to create a world where every human person can help him/herself. That is how God created us.

rnIndia declined external assistance. Normally, rich countries do not ask for foreign disaster relief. It is not only a matter of need fulfilled, but it has to do with our most important values – our dignity. This is why Hurricane Katrina is a great embarrassment and humiliation for the United States. It exposed the Third World nature of the underclass in the richest country in the world. We who live in a rich country do not understand the humiliation of having to receive charity. We must strive to create a world where every human person can help him/herself. That is how God created us.rn

7.The death toll due to natural disasters is far less than that caused by war. The natural calamity known as the worst in history, the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, killed perhaps at most 310,000 people. But over 200,000 died in a split second as the result of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All together, according to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, about fifty million people died during the four years of the Second World War, including six million Jews. Thirty millions were noncombatants. Millions have died since in military conflicts, though there has not been another world war. Human beings are our own worst enemies, not nature. How much money do we spend for peace? A pittance. It is shameful. We must spend more energy resolving conflict in the world.

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rnThe natural calamity known as the worst in history, the Tsunami in Southeast Asia, killed perhaps at most 310,000 people. But over 200,000 died in a split second as the result of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All together, according to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, about fifty million people died during the four years of the Second World War, including six million Jews. Thirty million were noncombatants. Millions have died since in military conflicts, though there has not been another world war. Human beings are our own worst enemies, not nature. How much money do we spend for peace? A pittance. It is shameful. We must spend more energy resolving conflict in the world.

POWERLESS LIKE JESUS

In Palestine last year I began a faith journey of learning to share powerlessness.

I served as a volunteer for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel from the end of August until the end of November 2003. The World Council of Churches’ program was launched in response to an invitation by the churches in Jerusalem to journey with them on the road to peace. Ecumenical accompaniers, as volunteers in the program are called, work for three months with Palestinians and Israelis. I joined 19 accompaniers from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States. We were placed in Israeli and Palestinian communities and organizations to live with them and share their lives in the state of a low-level war.

I lived with two clergy persons, a Norwegian and an American, in a Palestinian farming village called Jayyous on the border between Israel and the Occupied Territories, sharing the reality of living with the separation barrier. The barrier, constructed by Israel in the Occupied Territories to control the movement of Palestinians, is a concrete wall in some places and a wire fence in others. The fence in Jayyous created an immense difficulty for the villagers because it separated them from their fields, greenhouses, orchards, and olive groves-their livelihoods. There were two gates that, in theory, enabled farmers to go to work. Children also went to school through the gate. But the openings were irregular, and every day created an explosive atmosphere between the farmers and the soldiers who controlled the gates.

We went to work in the field with the farmers and shared the difficulty created by the barrier and the occupation. We also took turns watching the gate openings so that the peace would be kept between farmers and soldiers. The gate watch was also a human rights watch.

In Jesus, God became human, became powerless like us. Therein was Christ’s power, a “power of powerlessness” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it. In the mission of the church, are we not also sent into the world to share powerlessness?

Yet I know first-hand that sharing powerlessness is not easy. One day, we waited for two hours for soldiers to open the gate. Children were already late for school and the day was getting shorter for harvesting. Olives, the villagers’ main crop, as precious as gold, were overripe and drying up on the trees. Mohamed, one of the farmers, looked at me and my cell phone and demanded, “Call jesh (soldier in Arabic).” He didn’t know that I had no access to the Israeli military. I felt badly for being so powerless. I felt I was betraying my friends. As far as he was concerned, foreigners were supposed to fix things that needed fixing. Throughout recent history, we Europeans and North Americans have accepted proudly the role of the designated fixer-uppers of the world. So we feel badly when we cannot fix what needs fixing. In other words, we don’t know how to share powerlessness, because we think we are blessed with power and know-how to fix things for others. In the meantime, we confess that God only is almighty, yet God became human and lived among us. How does this belief fit in with our self-designated role?

The sun was high and scorching hot and the situation looked hopeless. Another day lost and the crop ruined. Women bunched together and started to cry. Louise, a visiting Danish journalist and an accompanier, joined the women and cried with them. Hearing this, a British volunteer of a solidarity organization said, “That must have been the most healing thing that happened to those women, sharing tears.” But men don’t cry. I wished we could.

What hinders us from sharing powerlessness is our passports and technology. Maren, another accompanier and a medical student, was riding an ambulance with a Palestinian colleague. She flashed her passport at the checkpoint, and the soldier just waved them on. She was proud that she could help in an emergency. But her Palestinian colleague said, “I wanted you to see the difficulty and delay we face every day when it is only us (Palestinians) in the ambulance.”

On another day, the soldiers were late again. So I phoned HAMOKED to find out what’s the problem. HAMOKED is an Israeli human rights organization that keeps up-to-date information about checkpoints and gates to help Palestinians cope with difficulties they may have to face in the course of their daily work. The representative at HAMOKED said, “I will call you back as soon as I find out what the problem is.” A second later, an Israeli jeep pulled up and the gate was opened. It was a coincidence. Abdul Karim, a man on a donkey, gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Thanks, you did it again.” “No, I didn’t,” I told him. It was a pure coincidence. But he didn’t hear me. A foreigner did his magic bit, again.

The people of Jayyous were incredibly gracious to us. I had heard about Palestinian hospitality but their kindness surpassed all imagination. But towards the end of my stay, I began to notice that this was not always the case with some older men and women. They were never rude, but kept a respectful distance from us. I can still picture this old man who always came with a donkey cart, dressed in a traditional kaffiyeh head cover and a worn-out dress jacket. He always sat silently on a boulder near the gate and patiently waited for the soldiers. I tried to engage him in conversation a few times sitting next to him. But he ignored me as though I wasn’t there. I could feel his embarrassment. Why could he not go to his olive trees, handed down from generation to generation for centuries, without help? Why did he have to depend on the foreigners?

I saw the same humiliated eyes in a soup kitchen in Montreal. While many seemed to have given up, some looked disdainful. I saw the same eyes in the feeding camps in Ethiopia in 1985. The Ethiopians were proud farmers. They arrived, near death and starving, because they stayed home too long trying everything, in the end selling all possessions, to feed the family on their own. They were still proud but defeated, looking humiliated. Am I reading too much into their stoicism? I don’t think so. Why? Because I know the humiliation of having to depend on other people’s charity.

It was in 1945 in Japan. We were all dying of starvation because the war totally destroyed the country’s infrastructure. I was desperately hungry and Americans gave us food. Was I grateful? I should have been. But the only thing I remember is an overwhelming feeling of humiliation. Sincere appreciation occurs in the relationship of equals. This is why unaffected giving and receiving are difficult among strangers. We have to be friends, brothers and sisters, first.

I am not saying that we should not help others. Jesus fed thousands, healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead. But the central message of the gospel is that God came to be like us and lived among us in Jesus. His healing act was a spontaneous reaction of one human to another in the community of love. It was an act of solidarity, not an intervention.

I think about the violent history of the Middle East and the role played by the West. I now realize that there has been too much imposition and not enough solidarity. There has been too much tit-for-tat of violence that benefited foreign powers. Violence always begets more violence.

Let us not go to the trouble spots of the world and impose our solution any more. Let us first share the powerlessness of the suffering people. That is the Christ’s way.

Tad Mitsui is ….

A parable about water

THERE WAS A SPRING

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– A parable about water –

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There was a spring 500 yards away from the house I lived in; and a pipe was running through the 30 acre mission compound. Water was stored in a tank near the house on a 10 feet high platform for pressure. The terrain was full of mimosa and acacia trees; and a mud brick house stood in their midst. I lived there, in a village called Cana via Tyatyaneng, in the mountains of Lesotho; 7 km away from a town, for six months. I had no car. I was placed there to learn the language. I had a Sesotho language text book, and Sesotho speaking people who lived around me. This is my story; but it could easily be a parable about land and water in Canada.

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Water was abundant, clean, and cold. Ernest Bacquet, the first missionary from France, thought it was a gift from a grateful nation. Water came with the land from the king of Basotho, King Moshoeshoe I. He didn’t realize that no king of Basotho gave away land, because it was not his to give. Land belonged the creator, and people were the tenants. As far as the king was concerned, Monsieur Bacquet was subletting the land from him. No one owned land nor water in Lesotho. It belonged to God and people rent it and took care of it.

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But for Monsieur Bacquet, now la Societe Missionaire Evangeliques de Paris owned the land and water. In order to protect precious water from animals and other people, he built a concrete box – a cistern, around the spring and the fence around the compound. That was about two hundred years ago.

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A few weeks after I got there, a villager came to the door to tell me that there was a problem. Water stopped running at the community water tap. I had no idea I was expected to look after the whole water system. From then on, I repaired the gaps on the cistern to stop animal droppings getting in there, unplugged the pipe of a dead snake, or dug the whole five hundred yards to find the airlock. It was made quite clear to me that it was my job to fix whatever the problem. I didn’t mind, really. I learned later that another missionary installed a water tap in the village, so the women didn’t have to walk miles for water. I guess he thought he was being charitable; so did I – being charitable. Every morning there was a long line of women and girls waiting for their turn to fill up their jelly cans. I realized now that as far as the villagers were concerned, water didn’t belong to the mission; it was for everybody. Foreign missionaries like me were the custodians and the stewards. It was my job.

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There was severe drought that year. Rivers stopped running and many wells ran dry. So there was a longer line by the village tap everyday, and often the tank was empty by mid-afternoon. So we did everything we had to do with water earlier and earlier in the morning.

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One day, a tanker truck appeared. It sucked water out of the whole tank, leaving the villagers waiting until evening for the tank to fill up again. The truck came next day, and the next. Finally, I went to the driver and told him to go away. That evening, the manager of the South African trading post chain "Fraser’s" came to our door. He told me that their well was also dry and the store needed water to wash the animals and produce. He said that the store had as much right to the water as the villagers. I was angry. I said that I would stop the water at the source if the tanker truck appeared again.

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Next day, ‘Ntate Tente, my friend and teacher, came to tell me that I had to allow the Fraser’s to share water. The Fraser’s trading post was the only place where people could sell their livestock and produce. He suggested that I negotiated different times for villagers and the South African traders.

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Happily, I didn’t have to do anything, because by chance, the rains came back. But what if it didn’t, what could I have done?

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I hear that today there is a multi-billion dollar project in progress to dam up Lesotho’s only river, to supply water to South Africa.

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Crossing the barrier – return to South Africa in 1994

I crossed the barrier for the first time in twenty-two years.  At last, I saw what I had missed all those years on the other side.  It was just ordinary airport scenes; carousels, customs, foreign exchange, etc.  But I was almost in tears as a flood of emotion overcame me.  My fellow travellers asked me how I felt.  I could not answer.

On January 2, 1972, I was stopped at the passport control in the old terminal building of Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg.  It looked as though the Security officials were waiting for me.  All I had in my mind at the time was picking up my car and driving the 360 miles home to Lesotho, where Evelyn, who was seven, was waiting for me to prepared supper.  Her mother had gone that morning to a conference in Botswana.

A security man came to the passport control office, and asked me to follow him.  He already had my passport in his hand.  He took me to a room on the second floor, told me to wait, and went away.  Three days of hell began.

No, nobody did anything to me.  That was the worst part.  Nobody showed up, except a frightened black man in a blue coverall who delivered stale food from greasy spoons.  I had no idea why I was held.  I still don”t.

The thought of Evelyn alone in that house in Lesotho, not knowing where her dad was and wondering when she could eat supper and go to bed, drove me crazy.  There was nothing to read, listen to, or write with.  The door of course was locked.  The only window, which could not open, was facing another brick wall.  The ingredients of hell are the conditions in which you have absolutely no control over or knowledge of you own future. I would have said anything to anybody just to get out.  I was an easy torture victim.  Of course, I could not sleep during those 3 days, until the same security man came to give me a piece of paper ordering me to get out of the Republic of South Africa in 6 hours.  After that, I was not allowed to enter South Africa until 1994.

Since the 72 hours alone at Jan Smuts Airport, a few of the friends I met in the University Christian Movement of South Africa have died under mysterious circumstances or have been murdered – Abram Tiro, Mapetla Mohapi, Steve Biko, Rick Turner, and others.  Two Anglican friends lost body parts by letter bombs.  One man, I thought was a trusted friend, Craig Williamson, turned out to be a spy for the Security Police.

Many South African friends asked me, who didn’t known anything about my 3 days in detention asked me when I would come to visit them. I answered, "When freedom comes to your country."  Now I am here again.  It is a miracle.

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Tad Mitsui
Johannesburg
April 9, 1994

Hope where there is no sign of hope in Palestine

Don and I spent all morning since 5 at the North Gate of the village of Jayyous waiting for soldiers.  Don is a retired university chaplain from the U.S.  The sun was already high by 7 and the temperature soared to 38C.  This was September in Palestine.  There was no warning about the closure.  By 10 am, it is too hot to work in the field.  So most of the farmers, about 60 of them, just gave up and went home.  But Ahmed stayed on.   Someone in the field who stayed the nigh was waiting for him to bring food.  There was an old man with a donkey on the other side of the fence.  The donkey was loaded with tomatoes and guava.  I guess he harvested at night, just in case the gate would not open.  Ahmed collected all water in our canteens into a kettle, and started fire with dead branches to make tea.  Boy!  It was good!  There is nothing like sweet hot tea laced with plenty of sage on a scorching hot day.  We sipped it in the cool shade of an olive tree.  There was sharp loud, “Hee, Hoo.”  Donkey protested.  I don’t blame him.  It’s over 40 degrees!  He wants to go down on his back and have a good rub on the sand.  We threw some bread soaked in olive oil to the man on the other side and smuggled a tea through the wire fence.  He threw some guava back to us.  There was a picnic on both sides of the fence.

At 4 P.M., Don and I gave up.  There will be no soldiers coming today.  It’s one of those unannounced closures.  We started back, a  forty minutes climb.  About a half way up, we ran into another old man on a donkey heading down.  He looked like ready to spend the night in the field, so he could start tending tomatoes before sunrise.  Don with his elementary Arabic tried to tell him that the gate was closed for good.  There would be no Israelis coming to open the gate for you.  He stared at us for a long time.  “What the hell am I supposed to do?” expression needed no translation.  Then he looked up the sky and said, “Inshaala – God willing.”  He started to continue the descent anyway.  I guess he would not give up.  He would wait all night to save his crop.  We hadn’t known then that there was a suicide bomber attack in Tel Aviv the day before.  We had no radio nor TV.  The gate was closed for good.  It’s collective punishment.

Don and I started to climb up again.  I could not hold back tears.  I tried to hide it.  Men don’t cry,  in Canada anyway.  I noticed Don looking up.  He too was trying hard to hold back tears.  We looked at each other, and had a good cry together.  God willing, indeed.  What else can we say?

“Where do you see signs of hope?” is the most frequently asked question since I came back after three month stint in Israel and Palestine.  I know in theory the word ‘despair’ should not be in the Christian vocabulary.  But it is hard to hope, where there is so much hatred and suspicion between peoples.  Two peoples in despair.

In October again, the gates on the separation fence was completely closed for a few weeks after a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Haifa.  That was the fourth attack since I arrived in the Middle East.  It was the beginning of olive harvest and a few weeks before the month of Ramadan.  Farmers watched helplessly their most valuable crop wilt on the trees.  I could see bottled up anger swell.  People were ready to explode.  Tension was so thick, and walking into the streets of the village was like walking into thick hot humid air from a cool building.  I spoke to a reservist Israeli soldier who wore a grey hair ponytail obviously hating every minute.  “Don’t you see what you are doing?  You are making terrorists out of these gentle farmers who just want to make a living.”  “I know.” he said.  “But it’s order.  What can I do?”  And he looked at me almost on the verge of tears.  I didn’t see any sign of hope at the gate.

Where is a sign of hope in this?  I don’t see it.  Do we still dare to hope?  Yes,  only in faith where there is no sign of hope.  What sustains my faith is my South African experience.  When I was in Southern Africa during the seventies’, it was time of despair.  Many friends died fighting Apartheid.  One of them was Steve Biko; they beat him to death.  Four years later, a friend turned out to be a spy – Craig Williamson who had informed on Steve.  I then really despaired.  I saw no hope.  South Africa would never be free in my life time, I felt.  How wrong I was!!  Miracle happens, God willing – Inshaala.  That’s where I get strength to hold on to faith that enables me to dare to hope.  Not the visible sign.  I can’t see it, but I have hope.

Powerless like Jesus in Palestine – Award winning article

In Palestine last year, I began a faith journey of  learning to share powerlessness.    In Jesus God became human.  Thus God was powerless like us, therein was Christ’s power, “power of powerlessness” as Dietrich Bonheoffer put it.   In the mission of the church, are we not also sent into the world to share powerlessness?

I served as a volunteer for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) from the end of August until the end of November, 2003.  It is a program of the World Council of Churches which was launched in response to an invitation by the churches in Jerusalem.  The churches in Jerusalem gave  the wider churches an opportunity to journey together with them on the road to peace.  Ecumenical Accompaniers (as volunteers in the program are called) work for three months with Palestinians and Israelis.  I joined 19 Ecumenical Accompaniers from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.  We were placed in Israeli and Palestinian communities and organizations to live with them and to share their life in the state of a low level war.

In my case, I lived with two clergy persons, a Norweigian and an American, in a farming Palestinian village called Jayyous in the occupied West Bank, and shared the life with the separation barrier – the concrete wall in some places and the wire fence in others.  The fence in Jayyous created an immense difficulty for the villagers, because it separates them from their field, green houses, orchards, and olive groves.  In other words, they were separated from livelihood.  There were two gates that in theory enable farmers to go to work.   Children also went to school through the gate.  But the openings were irregular, and everyday created an explosive atmosphere between the farmers and soldiers who control the gates.

We went to work in the field with the farmers and shared the difficulty created by the barrier and occupation.  Also we took turns to watch the gate openings in order that the peace would be kept between farmers and soldiers.  The gate watch was also human rights watch.  I did gate watch most of the time.

One day, we waited for two hours for soldiers.  Children were already late for school, and the day was getting shorter for harvesting.  Olives, their main crop as precious as gold, were overripe and drying up on the trees.  Mohamed, one of the farmers, looked at me and my cell phone and demanded, “Call Jesh ( soldier in Arabic).”  He didn’t know that I had no access to the Israeli military.  I felt bad for being so powerless.  I felt I was betraying my friends.  As far as he was concerned, foreigners were supposed to fix things that needed fixing.  We, from Europe and North America throughout in the recent history, accepted proudly the role of the designated fixer-uppers of the world.  So, we feel badly when we can not fix what needs fixing.  In other words, we don’t know how to share powerlessness, because we think we are blessed with power and know-how to fix things for others.  But in the meantime, we confess that God only is almighty, and yet he became human and lived among us.  How does this belief fit in in our self-designated role?

The sun was high and scorching hot and the situation looked hopeless.  Another day lost and the crop ruined.  Women bunched together and started to cry.  Louise, a visiting Danish journalist and an accompanier, joined the women and cried with them.  Hearing this a British volunteers of a solidarity organization said: “That must have been the most healing thing that happened to those women – sharing tears.”  But men don’t cry.  I wished we could. 

What hinders us to share powerlessness is our passports and technology.  Maren, another accompanier and  a medical student, was riding an ambulance with her Palestinian colleague.  She flashes her passport at the check-point, and the soldier just waves them on.  She was proud that she could help in emergency.  But her Palestinian colleague said: “I wanted  you to see the difficulty and delay we face everyday when it is only us (Palestinians) in the ambulance.”  On another day, soldiers were late again.  So I phone HAMOKED to find out what’s the problem.  HAMOKED is an Israeli human rights organization who keep up-to-date and minute-by-minute information about check-points and gates to help Palestinians cope with and prepare for difficulty they may have to face in the course of their daily work.  The representative at HAMOKED said: “I will call you back as soon as I find out what the problem is.”  A second later, an Israeli jeep  pulled up, and the gate was open.  It was a coincident.  Abdul Karim, a man on a donkey, gave me a thumb-up and said: “Thanks, you did it again.”  “No, I didn’t.”  It was a pure coincidence.  But he didn’t hear me.  A foreigner did his magic bit, again.

People of Jayyous were incredibly gracious to us.  I had heard about Palestinian hospitality but their kindness surpassed all imagination.  But towards the end of my stay, I began to notice that it was not always the case with some older men and women.  They were never rude, but kept respectful distance from us.  I can still see this old man, for example, who always came with a donkey cart, in a traditional kaffiyeh head-cover and a worn out dress jacket.  He always sat silently on a boulder near the gate and patiently waited for the soldiers.  I tried to engage him a few times sitting next to him.  But he ignored me as though I wasn’t there.  I could feel his embarrassment.  Why can he not go to his olive trees handed down from generation to generation for centuries without help?  Why does he have to depend on the foreigners? 

I saw the same humiliated eyes in a soup kitchen in Montreal.  While many seemed have given up and servile, some of them looked disdainful.  I saw the same eyes in the feeding camps in Ethiopia in 1985.  They were proud farmers.  They arrived near death starving, because they stayed home too long trying everything, in the end selling all possessions, to feed the family on their own.  They are still proud but defeated, looking humiliated.  I am reading too much into their stoicism?  I don’t think so.  Why?  Because I know the humiliation of having to depend on other people’s charity.

It was in 1945 in Japan.  We were all dying of starvation, because the war totally destroyed infrastructure.  I was desperately hungry and Americans gave us food.  Was I grateful?  I should have been.  But the only thing I remember is overwhelming feeling of humiliation.  Sincere appreciation occurs in the relationship of equals.  This is why unaffected giving and receiving are difficult among strangers.  We have to be friends, brothers and sisters, first.

I am not saying that we should  not help others.  Jesus fed thousands, healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.  But the central message of the Gospel is that God came  to be like us and lived among us in Jesus.  His healing act was a spontaneous reaction of one human to another in the community of love.  It was an act of solidarity not an intervention.  I think about the violent history of the Middle East and the role played by the West.  Think about the twenty centuries of persecution of the Jews by the Christians to begin with, and the colonization and humiliation of the Arabs in the last few centuries.  I now realize that there has been too much imposition and not enough solidarity.  There have been several shaking of enemy hands in front of smiling Presidents..  Foreign interventions always are calculated acts to benefit mediators.  There have been  too many tit-for-tat of violence that benefitted foreign powers and violence always begets more violence.  I read Dr. Seus’ “A cat in a hat.” as a sad metaphor of foreign intervention, including many misguided good deeds of the missionary movement.

Let us not go to the trouble spots of the world and impose our solution any more.  Let us share powerlessness of the suffering people first.  That is the Christ’s way.

Tad Mitsui

Call me by my name

When I lived in Montreal, there was a sales clerk at a nearby bakery, called "Yaegel Bagel", who was convinced that I was a famous writer.  He served me well, perhaps better than he served others, so I didn”t try very hard to destroy his illusion.

Soon after we arrived in Montreal in 1991, I was interviewed by a local religious reporter and also by Mardi Tyndall on United Church Television.  Meanwhile, Neil Bissoondath, a truly famous writer who lived in our neighbourhood, received a literary  award and was the talk of the town.  One day, I walked into "Yaegel Bagel", and this young man spotted me from behind the counter, and asked if I was in the newspaper.  So I said "Yes".  There was another person nearby who looked at me and said, "He was on the TV."  Then the sales clerk asked if I was a famous writer.  I said "No,."  But he persisted.  "Don”t you write?"  Of course, I do.  The answer was "Yes."  I didn”t tell him that nobody read what I wrote, because he never asked that.  A myth was established.  It”s been more than ten years.   Every time I go to Montreal and buy bagels I can see that he still thinks I am somebody.  Still he doesn”t know my name.

This has been my life since I came back to Canada from Switzerland in 1987.  Many people thought that I was somebody else.  In the beginning, they thought I was David Suzuki.  A  woman on a bus, a bit tipsy, stared at me in a bus and pointing her finger at me and said, "Aren”t you that Chinese guy on the TV?"  Another time I was paying for a weekend Toronto Star at a super market.  David Suzuki had a regular column in the Star. The cashier asked me, "Do you have to pay for what you wrote?"  There were many other similar incidents.  At the "Yuk yuk" on Queen Street, the MC spotted me and pointed at me with a spotlight, then and told other comedians to watch their language and be politically correct.  I didn”t think he said that because I was a United Church minister.  He thought I was somebody else – David Suzuki perhaps?

From 1988, things got worse.  Sang Chul Lee was elected to be the Moderator of the United Church.  Often, as I walked in or near the old United Church headquarters at ”85 St. Clair Avenue in Toronto, people stopped me, pumping my hand to congratulated me for being elected.  Elected to what?  They never mentioned.  None of them said that they thought I was Sang Chul Lee, the newly-elected Moderator.

I can assure you that I don”t look like either of them at all. I know them.  I took David Suzuki”s course at the UBC when I was
doing a graduate study in 1964.  He even came to our church to speak. He was a young professor who was just starting his career.  I knew Sang Chul very well; he and I lived in the same house, when I was writing my thesis and he was an Ordained Supply for my congregation.  No, I don”t look like them at all.  Why didn”t they ask my name?  They assumed that I was somebody else.  Should I be happy that I did not look like Ho Chi Minh?

I was once astonished to see Tenjiwe Mtintso flying into Lesotho from South Africa to meet with me.  She became an MP for the African National Congress in 1994, but at the time, in 1977, was under a Banning Order in `King Williams`Town in Natal.  Those who saw the movie "Cry Freedom" should remember a gutsy young black woman reporter working for the "Daily Despatch", edited by Donald Wood.  That is Tenjiwe Mtintso.  After Steve Biko was murdered, his organizations were banned and all his colleagues were either imprisoned or banned.  Tenji was imprisoned, tortured, released and then banned.  Among the many restrictions placed on her were that she had to report to the Police once a week, was not allowed to move out of King Williams Town Magistrate District, and was not allowed to see more than one person at a time., etc. etc.  I was working at the time out of Geneva, Switzerland, in many projects to support liberation organizations like Biko”s in Southern Africa.  Since I had been expelled from South Africa in 1972, I had established a pattern of meeting with South African colleagues in Lesotho.  On that particular trip, I was to see Griffith Mxenge from Durban, a lawyer representing many of those Biko”s former colleagues.  Next year, Mxengehe was found shot dead in a ditch in Durban.  When I was meeting with Griffith, I got a message that I was to meet someone at the airport.  Griffith and I could not believe our eyes, when we saw Tenji coming off the plane.  She was a known dare devil, but violating the Banning Order and flying off to another country?  No!

She said that it was easy, she had borrowed someone else”s passport, bought a ticket, and flown out.  There was another woman
sitting in her house pretending to be Tenji.  Tenji was going back home.  She said, "Those South African police can not tell one black from another.  We have no name, you see.  We are just ”Bantu”."
     
That was true.  When I was teaching at the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, many students borrowed other
people”s passports or those infamous "passbooks" and went to South Africa for shopping.  We used to laugh about those border Police who never bothered to look Africans straight into their faces.  Because as far as the Apartheid regime was concerned, Black people had no names; they were just "Bantu".

On the other hand, when you get to know a person by name, other superficial attributes disappear.  You forget about
difference in their physical features.  My daughter came home once from a summer job hunt laughing, "Do you know I am a visible
minority?"  She thought it was some kind of a joke.  I am grateful that she had not been exposed to any situation where she was forced to be conscious of her minority status in Canada.  That apparently never happened until someone told her that she could apply for some jobs as representing a "Visible minority".   We live in a better country than many others.

Once I sat next to a Mathematics professor of a South African University in a airplane, on the way to London.  We had a wonderful conversation all the way.  He was fascinated by my story about one Old Testament Professor, who successfully compared the history and spirituality of South African Black nations with that of the Jewish nation.  At one point in our conversation, some thing I said triggered a question from the mathematician.  "Is he a black man?" he asked. I was taken a back a bit and had to think for a second.  Of course, come to think of it, he is a black man, very much so.  But for me he was Desmond Tutu, my neighbour and a colleague.

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"A good name is better than precious ointment." (Ecclesiastes)

Are we really that smart?

I recently moved to dry and sunny Southern Alberta with treeless mountains and gullies.  This landscape started a chain reaction of memories leading to my life in a small village in Lesotho in Southern Africa and back to Canada and Toronto”s search for a new land-fill site.   It was in 1969 in a small isolated village where I learned Sesotho – the language of the country.  I loved the way
its address was written – "Cana via Tyatyaneng".  We lived in a 150 year old mission station away from any urban center.   The house was built next to a church and a primary school.  We received lessons from a French missionary in the mornings using a text book written by an English woman.  We spent afternoons walking around the village and talking with people.  It was intended to be an opportunity to practice the language we learned in the text book.   We enjoyed looking and walking around more than practicing the language.

The village primary school had about 300 children.  Some of them were boarders from far away villages.  It was wonderful to hear them singing at night.  There was no book, nor radio, nor TV.  So singing and dancing were the only entertainments for them.  And it was good.  When I heard a South African singing  group "Black Mombazo", I remembered those nights going to bed hearing children singing in the mountains of Lesotho.  They sounded like that.  It didn”t take me too long to notice that there was no washroom in the school compound. Children fetched water from the one and only water tap in the village enjoying visits with other
people while waiting for their turns at the water tap.  So,  I knew how the washing part of the toilet was taken cared of.   But what about other things?    "Where do they go?"  I wasn”t sure if it was an OK thing to ask such a question, so I didn”t.   I had not figured that out until I got talking with a Canadian doctor who was working for a hospital run by our partner church – the Lesotho
Evangelical Church.   Doug Abby came from sunny Okanagan, B.C.  He and I often had fun talking about some of the silly things  foreign "development jet-setters" did while trying to "civilize" Africa.  One  day the topic was the toilet.   "Latrine" was the favorite word used by the aid agencies in their project proposals.  It didn”t seem that any explanation was needed why the latrine had to be built in every public institution.  It was a common sense first step towards "civilization";  to build an outhouse everywhere there were people.  But Doug  surprised me.  He said that it was a stupid idea in some parts of  Lesotho to build the outhouse.  He argued: "The country is poor and land is badly eroded.   But the Sun is plentiful.   It is hot and strong, and shines all the time like it does in Okanagan."  If anything, the Sun was too much and that created problems.  Drought was a constant threat.  And in such a place,  Doug thought that the way "they go" traditionally was very sensible.  I didn”t get it.  "What do you mean?" I asked.

"Have you noticed school kids taking a walk one by one towards donga?" Doug asked.  Yes, I did notice that.  I thought that they were just having a nice walk.  "Donga", by the way,  is the word for the gully.  In Alberta and interior of the Northwestern States, they call it "coulee".  It”s a crevasse which is created by erosion, often the result of over grazing and/or  deforestation.  Every rain sweeps scarce top soil away into the rivers and into the ocean, because there was no vegetation to stop it.  Donga is  a part of the familiar landscape in Lesotho.   They are everywhere.    They made the country looking like  a wrinkled face of a very old person.  People may call them "Moonscape".  Some of them are very deep and wide, but others are 6 feet deep or less and narrow.   You can jump in and out of them easily.  You can have privacy there.  It”s where a boy meets a girl.  Doug said, "They go,  in the donga."  I didn”t know that.  Polite people don”t tell us about their bathroom habits, I guess.  Doug continued,  "The Sun is so strong that it kills all germs in minutes.   It can kill you too, if you stay out in the Sun too long.  In a few hours, cow dung becomes cooking fuel.  It”s very clean.  But if you build a community outhouse, you create an instant germ factory.  It”s dark and warm in there.  Germs do very well there, thank you very much."  Of course, this life-style would not work in populated urban situations.  But
Doug had a point or two.  Every place has its own unique and appropriate ways, and the other people”s ways are not always good in every situation.  The so-called civilized solution does not always work everywhere, and can even make the existing situation worse.  Doug”s another point which is an important lesson for the technologically advanced people like us is that, in Western
civilization, we often don”t take responsibility for the consequence of our own actions.   But we must.  We must realize that our "civilized" life-style often lets us forget about the mess we leave behind, just like the same way we flush the toilet.  Somebody has to take care of  it, but we think it is not our problem.  We ignore the mess that is there in a dark and warm pit.   It will come
back to haunt us sometime.

We had a foster child for a few years.  He was fascinated by the toilet, as we began to toilet-train him.  Every time he flushed it, he looked at the whole process with intense fascination.  When it”s all gone, he would declare, "All gone!" and sigh.   He thought it was an absolutely amazing magic.  "Where does it go?" he asked.  "Sewage," I said.  "Where does the sewage go?"  "To the river," I said.  But I didn”t tell him that we drunk that water and ate the fish that lived in that river.  I knew that, but I didn”t want to talk about it.   We know that it isn”t "all gone, " but pretend that it is.  How long can we keep pretending that the mess we create is taken cared of?  

My Old Testament Professor in Japan studied in Germany during the Nazi era.  He told us about his visit to the sewage treatment plant in Berlin which was the pride and joy of the Nazi regime.  They claimed it to be another example of the greatest achievements of German science.  I suppose it was a rare thing during the thirties of the last Century.  He was shown a glass of water.  It was the end result of the sewage treatment process.  The guide asked my professor if he wanted to drink it.  "It is absolutely clean.  In fact, it is cleaner than tap water," he said.  But my teacher could not drink it, because he saw how the intake had looked like.  I guess it is our blissful ignorance that lets us forget what we put into our environment, and drink and eat out of it.  I belong to the generation who saw our lives progressed from the outhouse to the indoor plumbing, from the septic tank to the municipal sewage system.  We think the progress is wonderful.  It makes life more convenient at every step and makes our life cleaner and more sanitary; sort of  "more civilized."  But we forget that often what we call ”progress” is shifting responsibility to others without asking if it is OK to do that.  We think it”s "all gone."  But it isn”t all gone.

We are brainwashed to assume that progress is always good and wonderful.  We have to realize that it isn”t always so.  We must think deeply what progress means and what it is doing, not just now, but for the future.  I love to remember and retell the story about an old African wise gentleman who didn”t want to take the ride which was offered to him.  One hot day, an old man
was sitting by a dusty mountain road looking very tired.  An eager young foreigner stopped his Land Rover and offered him a ride.  But the old man said, "No."  The foreigner didn”t understand it.  So he insisted.  The old man said, "I walked a long way.  I sit here waiting for my spirit to catch up with me."  I am not against progress.  I am not a Ludite.  But I happen to think that we all have to stop and think about the consequence of  the steps we take.   Stewardship is not only about setting priorities and give money to church.  I think it is also about being responsible .

rn

Tad Mitsui
February 6, 2001
Lethbridge, Alberta

Living with ambiguity

"Why do we insist on settling disputes in a hurry?"

rn

Japanese language does not have articles.  Neither has the language spoken by Basotho people of Southern Africa, Sesotho.  The 1992 General Council of the United Church in Fredericton spent a lot of time arguing whether the Bible is "a" foundational authority or "the" foundational authority.   People in Japan or in Southern Africa would not have understood, what the fuss was all about.

Another example:  The word for God is neuter in those two languages.  Lot of our discussions about gender of God must be strange to Japanese and Basotho ears.

From those two small examples alone, we can readily admit that many of us engage in theological discourse with the mind-set conditioned by culture.  We must realise that we must distinguish issues that are vital to our faith from that which are basically cultural baggage.

If we believe that Christian faith is universal, we must recognise some of the western cultural hang-ups in our beliefs and practices, so that we don”t spend too much time defending them.  However, the greatest difficulty in doing this is to recognize that our desire for accuracy, clarity, focus, and precision may be a cultural obsession or based on political expediency.  The medieval Church burnt many people at stake, because they described their beliefs too accurately.  Were those issues so important to lose their lives for?  I think not.  

We laugh about some of the ancient theological debates today, like the debate about the number of angels who could dance on a head of a pin.  We don”t realise, however, that some of the discussions we engage in today can be funny.  Some are puzzling to people in different cultures.  Many aspects of our faith are mysteries.  Perhaps they will remain so for many more years, even for ever.  Mystery, after all, is very much the nature of our faith.  So why settle the difference in a hurry?

I went to Lesotho as a young missionary.  At the School for Missionaries in Paris in France, I met a veteran missionary who worked in that country for many years.    He was a sort of burn-out veteran who forgot any idealism a long time ago.  He said of the people I was about to go to, "the Basotho are liars.  It”s in their culture."     I began to learn the language, and read about the founder of the Basotho nation.  He was Paramount Chief Moshoeshoe.  According to a European writer, Moshoeshoe was a superb diplomat and negotiator.  "He was a smooth, slippery character who could be skilfully deceitful and would lie for convenience."   He sounds like many of our politicians, doesn”t he?
     
As I began to learn the ways of people, however, I began to understand what those European experts of local culture saw in practice.   What they thought were lies were not what we understand as malicious deceit.  It was sort of like flattering remarks to make people feel good.  In Basotho culture, language must not be used to insult or hurt others.  It is a tool for social harmony.  So punishment for insulting an older person verbally, for example, is heavier than the one for physical assault.  Words are for encouragement and for making people feel good.

It can be nuisance at times.  If you ask a villager how far your destination is, the answer always is "not very far."  Or, it is, "One more mountain."  They say so even though it may be a day”s trip on a horse back.  They rarely say outright "no".  It usually is, "yes, but".  In fact, there is no word for "no" exactly.  Do you call these ”lies”?  

When you think of the number of lives lost in the disputes on fine points of doctrines and ideologies in our history, you would wonder what was so much at stake.  I would rather live with ambiguity.  Wouldn”t you?  I should think this way of living and letting live in ambiguity is sort of like ”love”.  Wouldn”t you? I prefer ambiguity to precision in our belief, if it means life rather than condemnation and sometimes death.

There was a festivity in a village hosted by the Chief.  Everyone was invited, but was expected to contribute something, food, drink, or entertainment.  One man found there was someone who did not give anything.  He grabbed the freeloader by the neck and brought him to the Chief.  He demanded justice.  Curiously, the Chief severely reprimanded the justice seeker for disturbing the peace.  He said that an offender of rules can repent and pay retribution.  On the other hand, damaged relationship and broken harmony take a long time to heal.

I often wonder why we so often are eager to settle issues of faith in a hurry.  And for what reason?   It is interesting, isn”t it, that the very important question of ”who Christ is” took a few hundred years to settle.  It was at last enshrined in the Nicene Creed in the fourth century.  Even that had to depend on the Roman Imperial power which invoked an Ecumenical Council.  Without the power of the Emperor, probably the early church people would have had to spend a few more centuries to settle the issue, if they did so at all.   The Emperor needed to settle the theological quarrel about the nature of Christ, because the dispute was endangering the unity of Roman Empire.  I don”t think that the Emperor was all that interested in settling the question of whether Christ was God or human.  His concern was primarily political.

It is also interesting to note that the first major split in the Christian Church occurred because of the Nicene Creed.  I often wonder how many of the causes for the split in the church  could have been avoided if the question of faith was not linked to some form of political power and control.

I am sure that in an ideal society, persons of different views can live in peace side by side.  Indeed, I believe that a mark of a civilised society is where the members can  disagree and yet can live together.  It is a sick society if it has to expel or reject persons because of a disagreement over faith.  

I have a deep suspicion that intolerance  on faith matters may be motivated by latent desire for power and control, and is not so much as the result of love of truth.  Salman Rushdie, who has been targeted for assassination because of a book he wrote said, "Any religion, which claims to have explanations on the world and tries to link up with a political power, has a beginning of Fascism."  I think he is right.  When you hear that a group of Hindu fanatics were attacking and destroying an ancient Mosque, you know that this has to do with politics not faith.  Hinduism is, as far as I know,  the most tolerant religion there is.  It believes that all religions are different paths to the truth.  

We Christians also often behave strangely, if we should be the believers of the religion which advocates the universality of forgiveness and love.  Quarrelling over doctrinal matters should be an exercise in the search for truth, not a path that might lead to exclusion of the vanquished.  

Kosuke Koyama, who teaches at the Union Theological Seminary, makes an interesting point by comparing the Crucified mind and the Crusading mind.   He believes, and I agree, that "Crusade" is not a Christian language, ours is the crucified Christ, who loves all of us just or unjust, right or wrong.  

rn

Tad Mitsui
Montreal
June, 1994

I am what I am

Please don’t ask me where I come from.

rn

People ask me where I came from, whish is a difficult question for me.  I have to ask back, “How far do you want me to go back?”  Probably they expect me to say that I come from Korea, China, or Japan.  I suspect that people are not ready for me to say that I came from Chateauguay in Quebec, Geneva in Switzerland, or Lesotho in Africa.  I was born in Japan to be sure, but that was before three score years and ten.  Yes, I am a Canadian of Japanese descent.  But that classification hardly explains who I am.  If you want to know exactly who I am, you will have to hear my whole life story.  Otherwise you have to accept me as I am.

One day during the early eighties, a CBC Radio reporter came to interview me.  She was working on a program about  “missionaries.” I thought that she came to me because I was a missionary of the United Church of Canada in Lesotho in Southern Africa.  I had a good time talking about my experience in Lesotho where I spent seven and a half wonderful years teaching at a university.  Not only did I speak about my teaching experience, I spoke also about making friends with some extraordinary people like Desmond Tutu and Steve Biko..  Desmond taught in the same department with me.  Steve was a prominent student leader in the University Christian Movement of South Africa in which I was a Regional Director.   I also spoke about some exciting experiences, like traveling through the war-torn Mozambique in an armed convoy or being banned from South Africa, and a 73 hour detention leading to an expulsion from South Africa.  I thought that the interviewer was quite happy to record those stories.  She said that they were extraordinary.  She taped about three hours of the interview.  

When the program was broadcasted, however, the segment from the interview with me was a few seconds clip about my being a Christian in the non- Christian Japan.  My recorded voice said only one sentence, “Being a Christian in Japan, I was a foreigner  in my own country.”   I suspect that the producer didn’t expect a person of Japanese descent to be a Canadian missionary in Africa.  The interviewer apologetically informed me that my part in the CBC program was intended to have been the condition of  “being a Christian in a non-Christian country,” or some thing along that line.  So, all my experience as a missionary was nixed, because I was a Canadian of non-European origin.  

At another occasion, I met a Dutch man at a meeting in Ethiopia who was working for the Africa desk of a Dutch missionary agency.  He was puzzled by the fact that I was working in Africa.  Het asked me,  “Aren’t there more work in Japan for you?”  I could have asked him the exactly same question; about more work to do in the mostly secularized Netherlands.  I could also have said that there was more growing and vibrant churches in Africa, where the number of Christians was increasing faster than in any other continents.  But I didn’t.  Nevertheless, I was appalled by his naivete.

My problem with Canadian multi-culturalism is that it encourages stereotypes and boxes a person into a prescribed mold.  Granted, it has done a marvelous job making people of other non-Anglo-Franco cultures and races normal in the Canadian society.  But there are problems if one’s identity depends solely on one’s ethnicity and culture.  Not everybody accepts one’s ancestral tradition totally.  There are people who want to get away from their traditions.  Once I was doing a walking tour of Cologne in Germany with an Australian colleague.  We were totally in awe of a marvelous city which was full of history.  We met a young man at a beer joint.  He was a local and volunteered to give us a guided tour.  We were grateful.  However, he had hundreds of questions about Australia and Canada.  He said to us at the end of the day that he knew where we came from by our speech and wanted to find out about our countries.  He wanted to migrate to Australia or Canada.  We said, “Why?”  We didn’t understand why anyone wanted to move away from such a beautiful and historic city.  But he said that the city was so full of history and tradition that it was stifling for a young man like him.  He just wanted to get away from it all.  You don’t box such a person into the same box he or she is trying to escape from.  This doesn’t mean that such a person hates his or her country of origin.  It simply means that one feels one has to dictate one’s own destiny without feeling chained.  Everyone has to have freedom to choose a course of one’s life.  

On the first day at my protestant chaplain’s office at the university in Lesotho, I was very excited when a Botswana student phoned to make an appointment – the very first client.  He said he wanted to make  a “serious request.”  He came in, hesitated a little, and asked me if I “could teach him Karate.” What a let down.  I didn’t know Karate.  In fact, I hated lessons in marshal arts in the middle school because of its military overtone.  I was no use for him, a failure, not because I was not a good spiritual counselor nor my theology was weak, but because I was a Japanese who didn’t know Karate.

One can be quite content being ignorant of one’s ethnicity, too.  I don’t think there is anything wrong in that.  Try Hawaiians.  Many of them have so much mixed racial background that they are not sure which particular race they belong to.  Yet, I don’t know any Hawaiian who is unhappy because they don’t know exactly who they are.  In fact, they are some of the happiest people I have encountered.  My daughter grew up in a multi-racial university staff community in Lesotho.  Her friends were Africans and Europeans of various colors of skin.  Asians were not many, none in fact, of the Oriental variety  The first time she saw the Oriental person, after the age of self-consciousness, was the time when she ran into many development aid workers from China at the airport in Lesotho.  She was afraid of them, because she had never seen such a people who did not belong to any category of people she had known.  When she came back to Canada, she was classified officially a member of  “visible minority”.  She came home from school one day and said, “Did you know I was a visible minority?”  She thought it was very funny.  

I do not dislike things Japanese.  But I like what I like and don’t like a lot of things Japanese.  Nobody can push stuff I dislike into my throat.  Some of my favorite foods are Japanese and enjoy preparing some of them.  But the best two in my culinary repertory are French.  In terms of the geographical areas I am interested in, I am passionate about the issues related to Africa and the Middle East.  In fact, I am not too familiar with Asian affairs.  We lived in the Global Village.  Much of classical arts now belong to all of the human race no mater where they originate.  Aren’t some of the best Symphony orchestra conductors non-European?  They don’t have to specialize in African, Middle Eastern, or Oriental music.  I heard some time ago a debate about Seiji Ozawa’s interpretation of European music.  The question was if his ethnicity influenced his interpretation.  The question did not make sense to me.  Mozart is Mozart interpreted by a Finish, an Indian, or a Japanese conductor.  In the same token, good food is a good food regardless of the cook who prepared it.  Only question that should be asked is the quality of the art.  There is such a thing as an universal standard.  Likewise, I believe there should also be a Canadian standard.

When I came to Canada, my first pastorate was a United Church of Canada Japanese congregation.  To be sure, it was organized according to the United Church Manual.  But the only thing United Churchy about it was how it was governed.   It was in many other ways distinctly Japanese.  Japanese Christians in Canada were mainly converts as the result of the work by the Methodist Church of Canada.  And the first church was founded in 1892.  So the Japanese church was not new in Canada.  There were many second and third generations Japanese Canadian United Church members.  

However, the church in Vancouver was different in 1957.  The uniqueness of the congregation in Vancouver was the fact that many members were, unlike other Japanese United Church congregations, relatively new converts.  Many of them became Christians as the result of the work done by the United Church of Canada during their removal and internment beginning in 1941.  They felt betrayed by their own country when Canada treated them as “enemy aliens.”  But the United Church stayed sympathetic to Japanese Canadians throughout the war against the tide of hostile sentiment among many Canadains.  For those converts, the United Church represented the best of Canada.  They might not have changed their culture and life-style on the surface, but their conversion was a paradigm shift at the core.  They adopted the core spirit of Canada as their foundational philosophy, and their conversion to Christian faith by joining the United Church of Canada represented a profound commitment to Canada.

One of them in my congregation who converted to Christianity was Mr. Sen-ichiro Asai.  He became Christian at the age of 60 during the war at an internment camp in Tashme a few kilometres west of Hope.  He told me about many cultural events that were popular before the war.  He spoke about exhibitions in marshal arts, flower arrangement, Japanese dance, etc.  They were well attended popular events by Canadians.  But, “Did those cultural events changed the mind about us? Apparently they didn’t,” he said.  Canadians, some of whom might have attended those events and liked them demanded our expulsion, just the same, he said.  “Except,” he continued, “the church, CCF, and the Canadian Jewish Congress.  They were the ones who lived by the principles of British fair play and justice.  And they helped us.”  So he was baptized, and joined the United Church.  He never learned English.  But he was a proud Canadian and an Elder of Vancouver Japanese United Church.  I met many people like Mr. Asai in Vancouver.

I believe that there has to be a set of core values that binds Canadians together.  Merely accepting all the cultural traditions of all Canadians and term Canada as a mosaic or a bowl of tossed salad does not unite us.  Multi-culturalism characterizes Canada as a tolerant country.  Tolerance may work as a uniting force of a country in an ideal world that has no conflict. But the world in reality has many conflicts.   It may also work if Canada is a neutral country like Switzerland.  But neither option is viable under the circumstances where Canada is placed geographically and politically.  I don’t think Canadians are prepared to pay the cost of being neutral.  Then there has to be a decision to be made about alliance.  That is where the values come to fore as an operating principle.  Our decision not to participate in the wars in Viet Nam in the sixties and in Iraq in 2003 was not based in our principle of tolerance.  It was based on our belief that Canada is not a part of an empire.  Domination and subjugation of another country without consent of the world wide community is not according to our value.

We do enjoy living in a tolerant and multi-cultural country and intend to keep it that way.  But choosing our partner also is our value based practice.  So how is a decision to pick our partners made?  Multi-culturalism helps us accept people who are different from us, but does not help us reject some of them.   Our love of humus, Kabuki, Mozart, or Chardonnay is not enough to help choose an enemy.  It used to be a religion or an ideology that did that.  But that is no longer the case.  It has to be something we all agree on.  It has to be the principle based on values that help us make tough decisions.  When we know what it is that unites us, we may have to reject or discard some cherished traditional practices.  We have already done that with female genital mutilation, which is to some traditionalists as sacred as circumcision of male infant child.  A fierce debate is raging in France about the outward manifestation of religious beliefs in public schools, because secularism is an important value based principle is France since Revolution.  Canada is moving towards opposite direction.  I like the Canadian way better so long as it allows flexibility for me to be whatever I want to be and do.  But my question is: Do we not need more if Canadians have to be united to undertake a common project together as a nation?

Two wars in Iraq raised important challenges on the question of the uniquely Canadian values and multi-culturalism.  Many Canadians of Arab and Muslim background became victim of racism and stereotyping.  It is possible to be both a devoted Muslim and a patriotic Canadian, who would take up arms against an Islamic country for Canada.  Japanese Canadians faced that challenge during the second world war.  Some Japanese Canadians, at last towards the end of the war, were permitted to enlist and went to war from the internment camps to fight the Japanese Army in Burma.  But, for a good reason, many Japanese Canadians did not trust fellow Canadians’ ability to distinguish culture and country and hid their chopsticks when there was a knock on the door during the dinner.  Many Jewish compatriots fall victim of anti-Semitism because of what Israel government does to the Palestinians.  Those are stupid mistakes but with seriously negative consequences.  Such a mistake does grave injustice and hurt people badly.  This is why I believe that we must keep working on the distinct Canadian values in the age of multi-culturalism.  Multi-culturalism alone is not enough.   Religion or British tradition does not work any more as the national standard.

This is why I believe that it is important for me to insist on being seen as what I am, not just as a Japanese Canadian who knows a good sushi restaurant.

Remembering all the War Dead – Award winning article

I served the church all my life since coming to Canada in 1957 at age 25.  But unlike other Canadian born colleagues, I have always had a problem participating in the observance of Remembrance Day.  I always feel sorry for those aging veterans who had to stand, or increasingly in recent years sit in the wheel chairs, outside on the damp, cold days.  It’s always cloudy, cold and damp.  I hate cold damp days.  But that is not the reason why I have apprehension about attending Remembrance Day observances, because I do believe them to be an important part of ministry.  The reason I feel apprehensive is that  I have never been able to honor the war dead in my family except in silence.  I felt inappropriate to honor those in my own family openly, because they died fighting for Japan.   

Histories are always written by victors;  there is no official remembrance day for the vanquished in the triumphant nations.  This is the problem in a country like Canada whose citizenship includes many nationalities.  Even though those three uncles died in wars, their deaths are not honored in Allied nations, where they were “the enemy.”  War is ugly.  There is no way to make it pretty.  We hide images of our dead heroes and expose those of “the enemy.”  We demonize the opposition, taking away their dignity as people with families who mourn them, a faith that sustain them, and a lost future. That has always been my problem with Remembrance Day.   I believe that all the war dead should be remembered including civilians.  And only by remembering all of them on both sides of the conflicts, we can mean what we say that we pray for peace.

My maternal great-grand parents had two sons and a daughter (my mother’s mother).  Both boys died in 1900 during the Russo-Japan War.  Many people in Canada probably don’t know about that war or that Tzarist Russia lost it.  A decisive battle was fought between Japanese Imperial Navy and Tzarist Russian Navy on Japan Sea.  Russia’s Pacific fleet had been sealed in a port and made immobile, and the Baltic fleet which circumnavigated half the globe to face Japanese navy was completely annihilated.  That was in 1900.   Next year, two Armies fought over a hill overlooking the Chinese city of Yingkon, which had previously been conceded to Russia by the Chin Dynasty of Imperial China.  Russia lost that hill also.   Tzar conceded the defeat and proposed armistice.  That war ended Tzarist Russian ambition for China and launched that ambition in Japan.  My Grand-uncle Masao was a Navy Commander died while he was leading a feet of old cargo boats in order to seal the port of Yingkon, where Russian Pacific fleet was based.  He was ordered to sail those old  rusty pieces of metal, that had been in the scrap yards waiting to be salvaged to the mouth of the port and scuttle them.  But while  he was still aboard the sinking boat, the land-based artillery fires blew it up.   He was 28 years old.   The other grand-uncle, Shiro, died of dysentery in a field hospital in the same year at the age of 23.  Because the Mitsui family no longer had a son to continue the family name, when my mother married my father, they together inherited the Mitsui family name.

Uncle Mitsugu was my father’s youngest brother.   As a boy, he lived in Seoul, Korea, where the rest of my father’s family lived.  Before the war, he came to stay with us for a few years, because he wanted to go to a high school in Japan.  As soon as he finished high school, he was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese army and sent to fight in the battle of Guadacanal in the Solomon Islands in 1944.  Some people must remember that the battle for Guadalcanal was where the tide of war in the Pacific turned north and the Allied forces began their way towards Japan, one island at a time.  Many Japanese soldiers starved and rotted in the steaming and stinking bug-infested jungles, never to be found.  The movie “Thin Red Line” produced and directed by Sean Penn was about the battle of Guadalcanal.  We don’t know whether my uncle died at sea before landing or on the island of Guadalcanal.  Uncle Mitsugu still is officially “missing-in-action and presumed dead”, because there was no way to find his remains.  He was only 18 when he died and I was 11 years old.

All three uncles were Christians.  In fact, the Mitsuis have always been a proud Christian family since the end of Tokugawa Shogun dynasty in late 1800”s when Christianity was still illegal in Japan.  For my great-grand parents, it was a Christian duty to be patriotic to the newly reformed state which was based on the western model of constitutional monarchy.  They saw the beginning of the modern, industrialized Japan.  The constitution clearly declared freedom of religion.  So,  as Christians and Japanese,  my grand-uncles Masao and Shiro had no problem choosing a life in the military as their careers.  

The case of Uncle Mitsugu was different.  After two failed military coup d’etat during the 1930”s, Japanese politics turned radically to the right, and a process towards militarization and  absolute monarchy began in earnest.  The fragile democracy, which briefly thrived in the 1920”s and early 30”s when my father was growing up, was snuffed out.  It was a difficult time for Christians in Japan.  And my father, who was educated in the liberal tradition at a seminary founded by American Methodists, had to think very hard about  his faith and his love of  the country.  Believing that being faithful to Christ was the most patriotic option,  he became a pacifist and paid heavily for this conviction during the Second World War.  Uncle Mitsugu was very much influenced by my father.  He taught me in Sunday School briefly at my father’s church in downtown Tokyo.  We met in a dusty little room on the fourth floor of the bell tower covered with creeping ivy vines.  It was a junior class, and had a name   “Nozomi” – Hope.  I remember the first lesson: Uncle Mitsugu spoke about what it meant to hope.  When he was drafted into the army, he went most reluctantly.

My two grand-uncles are buried in the United Church cemetery in St. Louis-de-Gonzague in Quebec in the midst of lovely dairy country between Chateauguy and St. Lawrence rivers surrounded by maple and sumach trees.  Their ashes were brought into Canada from Japan and re-interred there together with those of my great-grand parents, and of my father, because there is no other surviving member of my branch of the “Mitsuis” in Japan.  My favorite uncle is remembered on the covers of some of the Voices United hymn books at Howick United Church in Quebec, which was my very last pastorate.  I was the minister of Howick United Church for five years after the official retirement.  Howick is a close knit dairy farming community of about 3000 people – half Francophone Catholic half Scottish Protestant, where practically everybody is related to each other in some way.  On Remembrance Day, every war dead is remembered and their names read aloud.  Tears are shed as though they died yesterday.  It is the time not only of remembrance of  the war dead in their families but also of affirmation of the tie that binds them together.  On Sunday before Remembrance Day,  all the churches in the community come together and have a joint ecumenical service instead of their own Sunday services with the local branch of Royal Canadian Legion as a co-sponsor.

The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and the second one on Nagasaki a few days later led rapidly to the end of World War II in the Pacific.  Earlier that summer in June, one beautiful day in a fishing port city of Numazu in Japan, to which I had been recently evacuated from Tokyo, I was walking home with my friend from school.  Streets were covered by a canopy of fresh green leaves of the trees.  An “All clear” siren indicated that bombers had left the area and it was safe to walk.  We were happy, kicking stones and just fooling around like typical young boys.  Suddenly there was the sound of a bomb falling from the sky.  So we hit the ground and covered with our hands ears, eyes, and nostrils, as we were all trained to do during those last days of war.  It was close; noise was deafening.  When I got up, my friend was nowhere in sight.  It was a direct hit.  There was only a long piece of intestine hanging from a tree branch.  My friend was blown to bits and blown away completely.

In Western culture, good is beautiful and bad is ugly.  But the problem is: war is; war is by definition the act of destruction, hence its result is always ugly.  This is why as soon as the images of the body bags of “our” soldiers in Viet Nam, or of the naked dead American soldiers in Somalia appear on the television, the public rapidly turn against the war.  In the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, the scenes of D-Day begins by showing body parts of American soldiers who were blown apart by German bombardment sinking to the bottom of the sea.  It shocked the viewers.  But wars are always like that. It happens to both “our boys” and theirs.   No wonder many of veterans who were in combat zones often don’t want to speak about their experiences.  No wonder many of them come back suffering post traumatic stress syndrom.  

On August 6th each year during a commemorative ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a few dozen names are still added to the list of those who died from the first atomic bomb dropped on humans more than a half a century ago.  People are still dying as the result of sickness caused by nuclear radiation, some of who were mere fetuses in their mothers’ wombs in 1945.  For a long time, Koreans who had been conscripted to work in factories in Hiroshima and who also died were excluded from the list of dead.  Korean residents in Japan erected a separate monument in the Hiroshima Peace Park.  I understand that there was a large prisoner-of-war camp in Hiroshima, mainly from Commonwealth countries.  Many of them died when the bomb was dropped.  I believe that they, too, should be remembered on the same day.  The memorial at the Hiroshima Peace Park simply says, “Rest in Peace.  We will never repeat the same mistake.”  I believe that the pledge should be made to all who lost their lives on that day, regardless of nationality.  I believe that war is evil.  And all those who died in any war are the victims.  They should not suffer the indignity of becoming ugly dead.  I wouldn’t allow indignity to any dead person, but somehow people must be made aware that wars and result of wars are ugly – to both friends and foes alike.  Remembrance Day should be the day to remember all the war dead regardless of their nationality or loyalty, whether they were soldiers or civilians, elderly or children.  Then I will participate in it sincerely and wholeheartedly.  

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Tad Mitsui,
Lethbridge, Alberta
June 5, 2003

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Why people migrate on mass? Why some prople become terrosists?

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"I told you so"

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– Why of the two current issues: Mass migration and Terrorism –

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Why do we not ask "why" more often? I am asking this in the context of today’s two serious issues: mass migration including human smuggling and refugee, and terrorism.

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I am old enough to remember the UN Conference on Development in 1968 held somewhere in Sweden. That was the year I went to Africa with a bloated sense of self-importance and of my role in Africa. What arrogance!! Consensus at that conference was that a gap between rich and poor nations must be bridged, and the world must work together to enable developing nations to achieve their full potential. It launched the first UN Decade for Development. We were warned that if the world failed to succeed in this endeavor, the consequence would be dire. A dam will burst. We were told that masses of people would try to migrate to the richer part of the world, and anger and frustration of those who stayed poor would be so enormous that nobody could guess what they would do to express their rage. The first Development Decade was not very successful, so it was repeated a few more times. Was it successful?

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I suppose it is fair to term the result mixed. China, India, Korea, and a few other countries have been transformed for the better, to be sure. But a sign of failure is also everywhere. Mass starvation still persists. Meanwhile, serious health problems due to consumption of too much food are evident in the richer part of the world. One factor that was not predicted in 1968 was fury of culturally and spiritually humiliated people. They have formed an alliance with the poor.

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Mass migration of desperate people is truly a serious concern of the most of the western industrialized countries. Anger of frustrated and humiliated people is the root causes of terrorism.

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Hasn’t the 1968 prediction come true? I can hear, "I told you so" from those who made those prognostications. Should we not also be asking more seriously "why is this happening?" Fences and guns alone will not stop the gushing water of migrants and terrorists. The dam is already breached.

Support excellence among us

LET’S ENCOURAGE AND SUPPORT EXCELLENCE

Recently, I was saddened to find that Martin the Cobbler on 5th Street North in front of Galt Garden is retiring. I know of no other person in town who repairs shoes in an old-fashioned way masterfully like him. There are a few people like that in Lethbridge. Terrible George (as he called himself to me) of the Cowboy Boots (Leather Unlimited) on 5th Street South next door to the Abyssinian Restaurant is one. Precision Watch Repair on 13th Street North near 6th Avenue is another. I weep for the passing of any of those masters of crafts, who pride themselves in quality of their work, not so much in profit making. Do readers know any other masters of crafts like them in this town? Let’s mention their names here and promote them.

Like North American auto industry is painfully realizing, quality in the end wins. I was once sitting next to a roofer from Calgary on the flight to Japan. He was telling me the quality of roofers’ work in Japan. He said that when it comes to quality, no Canadian roofer can beat Japanese. He said, in Japan it takes eight years for an apprentice to be a fully qualified roofer, whereas in Canada it takes only a few weeks. Yes, it is more costly over there, but in the end it is cheaper because their roofs last forever; he said.

When I lived in Switzerland I was told that the Swiss didn’t buy American cars because of poor workmanship. They used to look for cars that would last life-time; they said. I guess that era is passing even there. But the same mentality persists. So you hardly see American cars in Switzerland. The same is the case in Japan, where I often go. Mr.Buz Hargrove complains about the trade barrier there. But the fact is, their quality control is much more strict, thus North American cars can not compete. In Tokyo, you see mainly Japanese made cars, but also many foreign cars. They are, however, mainly German not American. Patriotism has nothing to do with it. It’s quality they seek. My friends tell me that the old fashioned mentality still persists: they still think everything foreign is superior and prestigeous. They show off their business success by driving Audi, Mercedes and BMW. “Oh, you drive Gaisha (foreign car” is a great compliment. It’s not that we don’t have masters in Canada. We do. We can create quality.

Let’s promote and encourage our own quality makers, who are proud of their crafts. I am asking readers to tell me more about them, because I want to do business with them. It’s good for Lethbridge economy. In then end, I am convinced that I will save money.

Isn”t “the Holy Land” an oxymoron?

ISN’T "THE HOLY LAND" AN OXYMORON?

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Daily, we read bad news from the Middle East. I believe that the issues of the Middle East are primarily about human rights, justice, and peace, not religion. I wish we could keep religions out of the debate.

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I was neither an atheist nor an agnostic when I started to go regularly to Israel/Palestine in 1979 for human rights and refugee work. I was a Christian then and I still am. But I nearly lost faith in religion – in any religion. The ugliness of conflicts between religions, leading sometimes to blood-shed, was absolutely contrary to whatever romantic view of "Holy Land" I had held. I cannot speak much about the disputes between Jews and Muslims. I am sure that they are serious. But I can speak about the fights between Christian denominations over so-called "holy sites." For centuries, the churches fought each other over the authenticity of various holy sites and over ownership of those sites. Fights still go on. And they are ugly.

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If an intelligent life form from another planet came to the earth, he/she would not be able to understand why people who believe in one God are fighting over an object like a piece of land, a building, or a rock, etc. For believers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, there should be no other god than the God of Abraham. For them, only that God is holy and no other. Then why should there be such an object like land be "holy." Isn’t the way they fight over land is akin to idiolatry? Land is not a god – it’s a part of God’s creation.

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These three religions believe in the same God of Abraham and held the Hebrew Bible as Holy Scripture. And yet, the fanatics in all three religions claim that only their own particular brand of faith is correct and others be damned. I think that the whole point of belief in one God is universalism. We believe that by believing one universal divine being, we acknowledge that we are all God’s children, and brothers and sisters. I believe that to say "only my god is the real god, and all others be damned" is apostasy in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

No More Hiroshima

HIROSHIMA by Tad Mitsui

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The day was promising to be a hot humid day, in the morning of August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima. At about 8:30 a.m., "All clear" siren signaled that enemy bombers had left and it was safe to go out for work. Only a few people saw a parachute slowly coming down with a dangling bomb about a size of a wrecking ball. It exploded in mid-air for a maximum deadly effect on humans. More people remembered a flash of blinding, intensely bright white light like a thousand suns, and a second later earsplitting bang. Little did they realize that, at that very moment, a few hundred thousand people were vaporized and completely disappeared in a split second. Those who survived the initial blast would have wished they died with them. They wandered around the city totally naked and hairless as the heat of explosion burned off their clothes and hair. Their skins were burned black and peeling off. There was hardly any medical service left in the city. And no shelter or tree to protect them in the agony. They died within a week from severe radiation sickness. Many thousands continued to die for decades due to the effect of radioactive particles that rained down on them. On August 6, 1990, Muriel and I attended the annual Memorial Service at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which was attended by tens of thousands of people. On that day, close to a hundred names were added to the list of victims who died that year as the result of radiation poisoning from 45 years previous. Some had sustained this poisoning as fetuses in their mothers’ wombs. That was the first nuclear bomb dropped on humans. The second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki a few days later. A week later, Japan surrendered to the allies ending the most devastating war the world had ever known.

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In 2004, our planet saw the most devastating natural disaster when a huge tsunami hit Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. An estimated 300,000 people perished. It was a terrible tragedy. But compared to the number of deaths caused by natural disasters like cyclones, earthquakes, hurricanes, and that tsunami are eclipsed by the number during the Second World War. It is estimated that about 50 million people died, about two third of whom were civilians. The death due to wars did not end in 1945. During the 60 years that followed, still millions continued to died in wars. The reason we don’t realize this is because they died in many places and in many conflicts. There are 29 ongoing armed conflicts in the world today. When you sum up all the number of casualties, it is estimated that more than one million people died in 2006. The wars still go on.

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Humans are the only species who kill each other en mass within the family of the same species. Most other creatures don’t kill their own kind in such a scale. When I think of this incredible human stupidity, I often wonder if we really are created in the image of God. We have never learned from Jesus who said two thousand years ago that "One who draws a sword will die by the sword." Yet we continue to behave as though weapons will resolve conflicts and differences. Weapons are expensive – they cost billions. In comparison, how much money have we spent to find solutions in dialogues and negotiations?

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The United Church of Canada, with your contribution to the M & S Fund, supports Project Ploughshares, a research and advocacy coalition of many churches and peace-loving organizations. Project Ploughshares advocates the elimination of all nuclear weapons along with peaceful resolutions in international conflicts and the protection of vulnerable populations like those who died that day in August in 1945. They work towards the world where there will be no more Hiroshima.

Growing up in Retirement

I retired in two stages: officially, from full-time ministry in 1995, then from a half-time supply ministry in 2000.  There was a period of two months in 1995 when I had nothing to do before taking up the half-time ministry with a rural pastoral charge in Quebec. I cannot forget the sensation of dislocation on the first day of retirement in 1995.  It was a lovely spring day in Montreal. Birds were chirping in the trees as I woke up with the seven o”clock CBC news as I had done for years. Suddenly it dawned on me that I didn”t have to get up at all.  I felt lost.  I didn”t know what to do.  There was nothing I had to do except washing and breakfast.  After that, what?

Happily, that morning we needed some groceries.  So I walked to a supermarket. Half a block south and two blocks east. The maple trees lining the streets were still bare. The air was nippy, but smelled like spring. I had never been to a supermarket at 9 a.m.  It used to be called "Steinberg," but that old Quebec institution was gone.  It was now "Metro". Even the red of the Metro store seemed disturbing, compared to the soothing olive green of the Steinberg.  I was surprised by how many men were there shopping, all looking like me, retired, looking comfortable with hush puppy shoes and light blue wind breakers, or some similar attire.  They seemed to be in no hurry, looking more as if they were just hanging around than shopping, leaning on the shopping carts like they would on walkers. Some of them were just talking, visiting friends.  I had never seen men just hanging around and visiting friends in broad day light, except in and around coffee shops in Little Italy on College Street or St. Clair  Avenue in Toronto.  But, unlike the Italian men who look like they live for those moments of visiting buddies, those men at the Metro store in Notre Dame de Grace – the English-speaking part of Montreal- looked sad.

Suddenly, I felt depressed. "Is this what the rest of my life will be like?  Cheer up," I said to myself, "I don”t have to answer to anybody.  It doesn”t matter what I do; nobody will come after me or fire me."  But I felt I was nobody because there was nothing I had to do. Nobody cared if I was not there.  I had to learn the first thing about life after retirement that morning in a supermarket between lettuce and celery: it doesn”t matter what I do indeed, but it does matter that I am.  That day, I began to learn the lesson I should have learned during my forty years of growing up.  

My mother and our cat have taught me a lot in this process.  Some people may think it is insulting to my mother that I mention a cat and my mother on equal terms.  But on the other hand, cat lovers will understand this comparison totally.  Importance of just being. I look at our aging cat, who sleeps most of the time.   A famous writer – I think it was T. S. Elliot – said something about a cat having three things to tell humans:  ”Feed me.  Love me.  Leave me alone.”  Our cat, Estra,  lives exactly like that.  It doesn”t bother us if she doesn”t catch mice or doesn”t go after her tail like a cute, cuddly little kitten.  But Estra gives us so much pleasure.  She makes our life richer just by comfortably being herself.   We pray that she will live for a long time, if not for ever.  She teaches me so much about aging, and about life in general, like my mother does just by being who she is.  

My mother celebrated her 96th birthday in June, 2003 and passed away on Christmas Eve of the same year.  Her memory was almost gone.  Only rarely did she recognize me.  Even on a good day when she knew who I was, she asked things like why I didn”t have to go to school that day.  She didn”t see a grey-haired retired man but a school boy of fifty years ago.  She was not interested in eating much any more towards the end nor was she doing anything about her appearance.  She had never used to allow herself to be seen by other people, including her children, without make-up.  She slept most of the time,  but she looked happy when she was awake. She raised her right hand like a queen and said "Hello"  with a beautiful smile to anybody who happened to be nearby. "It makes my day when I see her smile," said a kind woman who visited her regularly.  My mother and my cat teach me how important for an aging person, or for anyone,  to keep on living fully no matter how little he or she can do.  

This is an almost impossible thing for a normal Japanese person to understand. Japanese truly believe that we are what we do.  If you do nothing, you are nobody.  What”s the point keep on living?  When I announced that I was going to retire, one of my sisters, who lived in Tokyo, refused to accept such a notion.  "No, brother.  You do no such thing!"  In Japan, there is no acceptable way to completely retire.  A person who ”retires” there usually moves on to a job in another organization which has no mandatory retirement age – usually a small NGO or a small firm connected to the organization you are retiring from.  A person with no positionis nobody in Japan.  Any respectable person in business, after retirement, would move to a position in a smaller corporation, which belongs to the "Keiren" – a group of smaller, related corporations – suppliers or sub-contractors, which have a special connection with the ”parent” firm, the "Oyagaisha."  Such a job shift is called "Amakudari".  Literally it means "descending from heaven to livean earthy life among the mortals."  This expression means taking up a positionin an organization of lesser importance.  There really isn”t a respectable way to completely retire in Japan. Those who cannot find a position by Amakudari could not have been a person of any significance before retirement.  

So what do you do if nobody wants you?  You create your own organization, often a consulting firm, set up an office some where cheap downtown and go to the office every day.  Not having any position in any organization is unthinkable, unless you are a famous artist, a writer, a freestanding theologian who does not have a pastorate or a teaching job, or a well-known sage or a philosopher.  My sister almost succeeded in finding me a job in Japan.  It was a position of "Chancellor" of a small junior college in Shizuoka  – an honorary position, of course.  I was even interviewed,  kind of.  This is how it went: I was asked to preach at a chapel service of the college.  After the service, I had tea with the entire teaching staff and lunch with the Principal and Registrar in a chi-chi restaurant with a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji.  When I found later that they were serious about giving me a position, I was horrified and respectfully declined the offer.  I really wanted to retire, as I felt burnt out.  My sister didn”t understand me. She was offended that I didn”t appreciate her effort to help me.  

I spent several years working for the Church in Lesotho teaching at a university in Southern Africa.  In contrast to our way of thinking in the western society, among black Africans, a person is considered to be a full person deserving of all respect no matter who he or she is or what he or she does.  In this way of thinking, the amount of money one earns or the positionone holds has nothing to do with a person”s worth.  Every man is addressed as "Ntate," which literary means ”father,” but it is an honorary title like ”sir”.  Every woman is ”Mme” (mother).  "Think about flowers of the field.  They are more beautiful than the riches Solomon ever produced.  Yet they can be thrown into fire when they wither.  Think about the sparrows.  God does not allow even a single one of them to fall without his consent.  And yet two of them can be sold for a mere penny." (Matthew 6: 25 – 34)  God loves us as we are, not so much dependent on what we do and how much we do it.  That was a very valuable lesson Africans taught me.  

But this lesson had unfortunately remained dormant in me until I retired.  It scares me to think how much damage I might have done to others without putting the lessons I learned from African friends into practice in my dealings with other people.  When I was thinking about retirement, I had resolved to follow a life with a set of regular activities.  I was hopelessly task oriented. I had to have a "ToDo List."   My spouse, Muriel, and I have known that she would be in full-time pursuit of her career as a university professor, and I would be a house husbandafter I retired.    So my  time would be divided into regular pattern of physical exercise, learning, volunteering, and writing.  I am realizing as I began to live under a new regime that many things I am learning now are things I should have learned long ago. I shiver when I think now what an insensitive person Imust have been without knowing those things.  However, I must confess that the model for living I see in my mother and our cat is still very far from me. It will take some more time of learning to reach ”Nirvana” – the state of complete understanding.   So I am not in my consciousness what I am, but still what I do.  I hope that in time I will learn to be what I am, because those things I do seem to be good lessons.

Here is what I do, and what I am learning:

On being a house husband:

As I began preparing meals, cleaning and keeping the house, I was surprised to find how time consuming those chores are.  I realized that keeping the house is not an occasional project, as some men think, but it is a full time job.  No, housekeeping is more than a job.  It is almost like a set of regular life-sustaining body functions such as breathing and eating.  You can not call in sick or take a holiday from it.  It is not an option.  But unlike breathing, housekeeping takes attention, energy, and creativity.  Like many other men, I used to think that because a housewife is not paid, her work is pretty close to worthless – not a value-adding activity.  Now I realize it is priceless.  

I was planning to write after retirement, to leave some written record of my life behind for my family and for the sake of posterity.  I was not necessarily thinking about writing a book.  But amazingly, I could hardly find time to write. Planning and preparing meals and shopping for groceries simply take up a lot of time.  I always liked cooking and cleaning the house.  I used  to be quite proud that Icould say I loved cooking.  Cleaning the house was not my strength, but Ienjoyed a sense of victory when dust balls were vanquished from the hard wood floors. Again, it was a revelation to me how time consuming cleaning the house is. I know it is late in life to realize this.

I can”t imagine how career women with children manage to take care of the household.  Many men don”t feel in their heart of hearts that they really have anything to do with it.  They view household chores as a favor all good men would do willingly for their spouses -from time to time.   "I don”t mind, really," we say.  It is incredible to me that I had never realized how hard housekeeping is until I retired and became a house husband.  And I don”t have a young child hanging on to my apron strings!  

Physical exercise:

It”s important for me to exercise regularly.  I had an episode of angina in 1999.  I spent a few days in hospital for observation.  Nothing serious was found, but it was a wake-up call.  Thus began a new regime of proper diet and regular exercise.  I fell into swimming daily.  I say "fell into" because I could have chosen walking or cycling, but didn”t.  By default, swimming has become my regular physical activity.   I used to cycle regularly.  When I had full-time work in church bureaucracies in Toronto and Quebec, we didn”t own a car.  Instead, I cycled to work, in Toronto from Cabbagetown through Rosedale to St. Clair Avenue, and in Montreal, forty minutes to the office in Lachine and one hour home up-hill to Notre Dame de Grace. I enjoyed cycling along the beautiful north shore of the St. Lawrence River.  Muriel and I cycled quite a bit in the dairy farming country of Chateauguay Valley when we lived in Howick.  Since arriving in Lethbridge, our bicycles have not been repaired from the damages of moving.  

Earlier in our life in Lethbridge I walked in the coulees, but the icy conditions in the valley made me hesitate to walk there in winter.  Hence swimming became my regular routine.  I can still walk in the coulees, and will probably enjoy it enormously.   The changing colors of different seasons, the amazing array of vegetation from cacti to wild roses, the variety of birds from Canada geese to magpies to pelicans. Yes, pelicans. I couldn”t believe my eyeswhen I saw them; even the bird watchers” guide books do not mention them. There are also deer, jack rabbits and gophers.  I will for sure enjoy walking in the coulees. 

The university swimming pool gives me a reasonable rate as a family member of the faculty. Every morning, a variety of interesting regulars appear.  A dozen faces of swimmers and friendly life guards now are as familiar as the smell of chlorine.  Most of them look so fit.  I don”t understand why I don”t see more unfit people like me, for whom regular exercise is a requirement.

The 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. period at the university pool is a scene from ”Reality TV”.  They all wear tight-fitting swimsuits, looking fit and beautiful. And they all swim like dolphins.  I was amazed how many people there were at that ungodly hour swimming back and forth in silence as if obsessed.  One hardly hears a human voice.  It is a bit eerie.  They must come before breakfast, do 20 (Olympic distance) lengths, then go to a Esquire – a trendy coffee joint for latte and bagels before donning their business suits and going to their offices.  No one swims like me – a slightly improved version of the dog paddle.  I”ve only seen two men my age and an overweight man among the regulars so far.  And I have been swimming for nearly three years.  

Where are people like me, elderly or unfit, those with heart conditions who have been told by their doctor to doregular exercise?    Maybe they come in the afternoon or evening.  It ispossible that those elderly and/or unfit people go to specialized classes like a seniors” exercise class with bouncing balls and stuff like that.  No wonder even those reasonably fit thirty-something professors avoid the university facilities and go to the local YMCA or a community pool so as not to be seen by the beautiful people, or worse, their fabulously fit young students.  Fitness is a good thing, but I”m very ambivalent about its becoming a commercialized fad.  

Those few unfit-looking people who come to the swimming pool in the morning are inspirations.  They have lived long enough to be unashamed of themselves; they don”t feel the need to hide anything.  One morning, I saw a long line-up of primary school kids before the cubicles in the washroom waiting for their turn to finish changing.  Why?  Is it a kids” culture or the influence of their parents?  Why should they feel ashamed of their bodies?   Is it a man”s thing? Those old or unfit people who enter the crowd of beautiful must have achieved a state of innocence like Adam and Eve before they ate the forbidden fruit.  They see their reality, accept it, and are comfortable with it.  

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On learning the beauty of Creation:

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I decided to do take up art. I had toyed with the idea of taking academic courses in political science or sociology, but decided they were too close to the way I used to think in my job.  I wanted to explore unknown territory. I took up drawing.   I take lessons in the basics of drawing from an instructor in the Faculty of Fine Art.   I was lucky to have been introduced to an instructor and a practicing artist who is gentle and patient.   I also go a studio to draw with other artists.  I am grateful that those people, who have dedicated their lives to making art, allow me to hang around with them as they practice their calling.  

The first thing I was obliged to learn in drawing was to observe realities as they are.  I realized, as the teacher forced me to look at the minute details of what is in front of me, how much I had assumed what was there. I learned that reality is not always what the left side of the brain tells you; it is not always linear and rational.  I am learning to depend on the right side of the brain to acknowledge and accept what is often chaotic and irrational.  

Another important lesson was that every object – live or still, nature, landscape, or human face and figure – is beautiful.  There really isn”t ugliness in Creation.  Ugliness is what we read into a piece of Creation from our assumption, a creation of our mind. Often our assumption is wrong.  There is a book I should read cover-to-cover – I have just skimmed through it – titled, “Anatomy of Disgust.”  The author makes the point that a disgusting thing to one person can be another person”s delicious food.  It is a wonderful feeling to see beauty in an unexpected object.   Beauty, indeed, is in the eyes of the beholder, and is in everything if you keep an open mind.  I am still in a stage of discovery.  I expect that it will take me years to learn to re-create the beauty of reality and indeed of God”s creation.  I am even farther away from creating  art as an expression of ideas. But in the meantime, I am enormously enjoying learning to re-create what is in front of me as faithfully as possible.  I now shiver to imagine how I used to think, conclude and argue based on assumptions and on imagining, rather than on the realities of beautiful creation.  

On seeing a rainbow in all people:

As for volunteer work, Muriel found an advertisement for volunteers to help theat a horseback riding stable for handicapped persons.  I phoned right away. The organization is called Lethbridge Handicap Riding Association – Rainbow Riding Stable.   I have been happily going there once a week since early in 2001.  I love horses – I think they are the most beautiful animal.  I rode quite a bit in Lesotho between 1970 and 1975 and in France from1975 to 1979.   Horses are a popular mode of transport in the mountainous country of Lesotho.  The Africans ride a type of pony probably related to or descended from the Arabian horse, the tough little ponies that can climb mountains like mountain goats without ever needing horseshoes and can live from grazing alone.   Because they are so numerous in Lesotho, horses are cheaper than bicycles.  With other horse lovers on the university campus, I used to help paraplegic children from the Lesotho Save-the- Children Fund shelter learn to ride.  Horses made better sense than wheelchairs in a country where a smooth surface is a rarity and where wheelchairs are probably more expensive than horses.  Rainbow Riding Stable brings back happy memories; the smell of sweaty horses and manure make me forget my frustration with Alberta politics.  

The stables are located outside the city limit east of Lethbridge.  It takes only 20 minutes from our house by car, passing the agricultural research station of the Federal Government and a large pond surrounded by tall reeds and trees  -a rare site in this part of the Canadian prairies.  Many Canada geese hang around the pond.  I pass the red brick buildings of a federal prison and meadows where cows lazily graze.  Rainbow Stable keeps a couple of dozen elderly horses for handicapped people.  They are gentle – lazy to some people – but ideal for those with less mobility.  There is an instructor who was trained in the art of hippo-therapy, a woman who aspires to be a professional rodeo rider.  Of course, she has a long way to go to make a living out of the rodeo circuit, if ever, so she teaches at the Rainbow Stable.  Up to three learners at a time usually come for the one-hour sessions.   

I help out at two sessions per day.  There are paraplegics, mentally handicapped persons, persons with Down syndrome, of all ages and backgrounds.  On days when it is rainy, windy or snowy, or too hot or cold, they ride in the cavernous arena. Each rider is accompanied by a person on either side, one to lead the horse and to make sure that the animal behaves, the other person to watch the rider, ready to grab the safety belt around the rider”s waist if necessary.  It is intensive work.  The instructor stands in the middle of the arena and gives directions.  Each rider is expected to brush the horse, bring the tack from storage, saddle up, and warm up the horse by leading it once around the arena, and finally, mount.  A lot of work, but enjoyable.  It is wonderful to watch an unsure, frightened person develop confidence as well as skills.  

Toward the end of a six-week term, the rider often has developed so much confidence and is having so much fun that we have difficulty persuading him or her not to keep trotting.  Accompaniers have to run with the horse, you see.  One can almost believe that anyone can learn to ride a horse, given a chance.  However, one type of handicap I still have difficulty accepting is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  I  feel angry at the parents that a beautiful child of any background, any race or class, has to bear the burden of their parent”s weakness all his or her life without any hope of a cure.  Not fair! Of course, if you scratch the surface of our society, such unfairness is found everywhere.  That is another reason for all of us to take responsibility in caring for such disabled persons.  At one of the Volunteer Appreciation Day potluck suppers, I sat in front of Michael, a long-time client of the Rainbow Stable.  I was a little taken aback, because this was a supper for volunteer helpers, while Michael is a paraplegic. In our conversation over spaghetti, I found that he became such a good rider that now he is a volunteer.  I didn”t ask how he could do it in a wheel chair. It didn”t matter to me really.  To me, he is an inspiration just being on a horse by himself.  

I can almost believe that life begins after retirement.  There is so much to learn and so many ways to grow.  Didn”t Socrates say something like to ”know thyself” is the ultimate form of knowledge?   I have a long way to go. And if I have to accept that self, I have an even longer way to go.

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Spring, 2003.

Violence in South Africa

Re: Violence in South Africa (Gwynne Dyer, Page A8 of the Lethbridge Herald, May 25, 2008)

We just came back this weekend from one month trip to Lesotho, Southern Africa, where I taught at a university for seven and a half years during the seventies, and South Africa, which kicked me out forty years ago. I wanted to look up former colleagues and students and old friends. (Desmond Tutu and Njaburo Ndebele now Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, amongst others. I could not see them because there were too busy understandably.) They and many others have done so much for the country and are well respected. South Africa is a success story. Transformation is remarkable. I could not recognize Soweto, for example.

Because the country’s economy is thriving, many foreigners are pouring in. And the government is very generous and does no stop them. Many VIP’s are remembering the days when all African countries accepted all South African refugees during the Apartheid days. Industries love them too, keeping the wages down. The cook of the guest house we stayed in Johannesburg was from Malawi, and the guide who took us around Soweto was a former priest from Congo, etc. They are about four million people in a country of 47 million. They make poor South Africans angry, because they think they rob them of government funded housing and welfare money. But the country itself and industries are not unhappy with them. This is why Thabo Mbeki, President, apologized to the foreigners last Friday. Doesn’t it sound familiar in many other well-to-do countries?

It is true that HIV-AIDS scourge is serious. But unlike our media bias letting us to think that the government is avoiding the issue, the campaign against the pandemic is very vigorous. All in all, South Africa is a success story. I’d love to go back.

May 25, 2008

Lethbridge, Alberta

St. Jude will hear us even in Alberta – Reflection on 2008 election

St. Jude will hear us, eventually.

The 2008 Alberta election was devastating to many of us. Despite many predictions by political pundits to the contrary, it was a Tory landslide. I already heard on the election night a few staunch NDP supporters talking about realignment of political parties in Alberta. I keep saying to myself, “St. Jude (the patron saint of hopeless causes) will hear us some day.” I’m sure the same sentiment is felt among the Greens and perhaps the Wildroses. This is not good for democracy in Alberta.

If you think of some of the best things in Canada we are proud of, you realize many of them were advocated by people who rarely got into power. I know that politics is about power, and any political party which has no possibility to form a government is not credible. But a good idea can influence the course of history with a sheer force of its wisdom. Siddartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism, left a position of power and wealth to pursue the way of absolute wisdom (Nirvana). Isn’t an art of governing also about compassion and justice, not just pursuit of power?

Some of the most respected Canadian politicians didn’t form a government very often. And yet, Stanley Knowles, Tommy Douglas, Robert Standfield, for example, are all respected figures. Their influence still is enormous. When Angus MacInnes, an original CCFer, stood in the Parliament to speak passionately for the rights of Japanese-Canadians during and immediately after the WW II, he was alone; everybody thought he was committing political suicide. He eventually caused a change of the government’s policy and mass deportation of Japanese-Canadian, which was already in progress, was halted.

I am not in despair. I carry on, continue to be committed to the cause I believe in. I hope you never stop. St. Jude will hear us someday.

YES, WE CAN HELP SOLVE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS.

YES, WE CAN

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– Solve environmental problems –

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Governments only seem to be interested in big-buck, big-scale solutions and often neglect the role ordinary citizens like us can play. Individuals can also solve environmental problems.

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For example, here are some small steps I have taken:

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1. We don’t have a dryer. We are in love with scent of the sun and the chinook wind on our clean clothes and linen. On a snowy or rainy day, we humidify our home with wet laundry hanging in the basement.

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2. We have no dish washer. Our guests have a lot of fun visiting each other while doing dishes together.

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3. I don’t use Kleenex. What’s wrong with a handkerchief?

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4. We have low flush toilets.

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5. We don’t buy incandescent light bulbs anymore.

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6. We have no air conditioner. Ceiling fans do as good a job on the hot days.

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7. We are gradually replacing our lawn with drought resistant plants and local ground covers. We try to grow some of our food and collect rainwater for irrigation. Lawn is foreign to this area and requires a lot of water, though drought resistant prairie grasses do not. We live in a semi-desert, folks. (We also eat our dandelions by the way: which make a lovely salad when mixed with other greens.)

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8. We have one small car.

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9. We always carry cotton tote bags for grocery shopping.

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10. We try as much as possible to buy foods that are grown locally or nearby.

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There must be many more ways. Yes, we can participate in the most important project the whole human race has ever undertaken to save our planet. We should develop profound disdain towards those big fat corporations demanding handouts from our governments every time we ask them to take measures to slow down climate change. "Green Plans" introduced by both Federal and Alberta governments do not offer any incentive to ordinary people like us. They seem to be saying, "Keep on burning fossils, we’ll look after the consequences. It will cost you billions. But trust us." No, we don’t trust you. We do our own things too, thank you very much.

GUN CONTROL WORKS ONLY WHEN WE WANT IT TO

On April 16, 2007, a lone gunman shot 32 people, professors and students, at Virginia Politechical University.  This is what I wrote and was printed in "Lethrbidge Herald" on April 19, 2007.

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IT’S PEOPLE, NOT GUN CONTROL

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A reflection on mass killing at Virginia Tech

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I hate to sound like the NRA, but I believe that any gun control measure will not work in the United States. Gun Control works in a society where people want gun control, and does not work where people do not want it. No law is effective without consent of people. This is why, for example "Prohibition" of the 20”s didn’t work.

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The United States of America is made up of people in the main who do not trust institutions. Their fundamental dictum is "Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness" which is basically individual responsibility. This is why America is such an exciting country where creativity and inventiveness thrive. Count the number of Nobel Prizes won by Americans. But at the same time it is an inherently violent country, because nothing holds them back in pursuit of individual goals (happiness). This is why "Gun Control" will not work even if by some freak of accident it is legislated. I hope I’m wrong.

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In the meanwhile, we in Canada believe in institutions: our happiness can be achieved in "Order and Good Government". It’s a communal project. We try to create institutions that help us achieve our goals. This is why we believe in gun control measures. And they work. We trust police to protect us, for example. If they don’t, we reform them. Switzerland is another such country I know – I lived there for six years. There are more guns relative to population than any country I know. Each adult man has a gun at home supplied by the government, because it is a citizen’s army – every man is a soldier. But very few any gun crime is committed, except suicide. This is another example of a society that believes in institutions.

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I can not offer any suggestion to Americans. But in Canada, I believe that Gun Control is a good thing. Keep it.

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Tad Mitsui

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1264 8th Avenue South, Lethbridge, AB T1J 1R1

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403) 328 6230

ARE COCKROACHES MORE INTELLIGENT THAN US?

ARE COCKROACHES MORE INTELLIGENT THAN US?

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Poor Rona Ambrose, who just followed Mr. Harper’s order. He at last seems to have realized that the environment is the most important issue today. But she got demoted instead. Where is justice? Where is the famous Harper intelligence? Or is he just a puppy dog of industries, just like the scientists who prostitute themselves to deny global warming? I should hope not.

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Speaking about intelligence, many people believe that human being was created in God’s image, thus we are more intelligent than other forms of life. But reflecting on the way we are killing each other in wars and destroy ourselves by devastating the life-sustaining environment, I wonder if this is the case. Maybe it is just a wishful thinking on our part and created a myth about "Image of God." I will accept that we could be wiser than cockroaches, if we are doing the right thing that enables us to survive as a species longer than those disagreeable insects. When I was visiting Montreal’s insect museum, I was very surprised to find that cockroaches had existed several hundred millions years on this planet, long before and after dinosaurs. How long have we as a species existed in the present form? Not even a few million years. We are not even a hiccup in the history of the universe.

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Surely one of the most important measurements of intelligence is an ability to let its owner to survive as long as possible as an individual and as a species. The nineteenth century philosopher Arnold Toynbee said that judging by the way humans were killing each other in wars, over doctrines and wealth, ants and bees had a better chance of survival long after human race disappeared from the earth. True: other forms of life on this planet does not possess our technology. But what is science, technology, or wealth, if it is helping us to annihilate ourselves more efficiently and faster? It is not a sign of intelligence. Is it?

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JANUARY 6, 2007

Peace on Earth – Peace begins with justice

PEACE ON EARTH

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Soon, we Christians will celebrate the birth of Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, we remind ourselves that the Jews greet each other saying "Shalom" and the Muslims saying "Salaam." Both languages mean peace. Then, how come are the believers of those three religions killing each other in the most bloodiest region of the world – in Afghanistan and in the Middle East? Isn’t it ironical that we believe in those religions in the same God of Abraham?

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The reason why peace is not coming soon is: I think, we are acting as though peace can be imposed by applying a superior power, and are forgetting that the notion of peace in the language of those three monotheistic religions mean "justice" also. Justice demands caring and sharing. Justice can not be achieved by mere giving of charity: that’s easy because giving charity does not force us to sacrifice what we have till it hurts. Justice demands more than that.

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Peace can not come by force: that’s oxymoron. Peace comes from justice.

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Peace on Earth!

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December 20, 2006

IN GOD”S COUNTRY EVERYBODY IS A CITIZEN – About dual citizenship

IN GOD’S COUNTRY EVERYBODY IS A CITIZEN – About dual citizenship.

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Hon. Monte Solberg, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, suggested that we re-examined dual citizenship. I think he needs to think a little.

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When I became a Canadian citizen in 1964, I had to renounce Japanese citizenship. I was happy to do that because of the Japanese Canadian experience during the second world war. Their loyalty to Canada was suspect so they were expelled from the B.C. coast and were interned. They were keen to prove that they were true Canadians. Some of them volunteered from internment camps to join the Canadian army to fight Japan. I just followed their standard, happily, when I gave up being a citizen of the country of birth.

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But I was also very happy when dual citizenship became permitted three decades ago. It shows that Canada has come to believe in the universality of rights of citizens and become a better place. It also shows Canada’s aspiration for a world without war. (What happens if a country from which some Canadians also have citizenship declares war against Canada? Like Germany, Italy, and Japan did during the WW II.) Dual citizenship is a good thing. For example, it facilitates the Israeli Law of Return for all children of Jewish mothers no matter where they live and have citizenship, and makes them automatically citizens of Israel. I served overseas for the church for fourteen years without worrying about my citizenship.

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Canada has come a long way. Dual citizenship can work without problem in a world without war. Utopian? Maybe. But we all dream of such a world. Don’t we?

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November 8, 2006

ARMED FORCES CAN NOT DO EVERYTHING – Should we be in Afghanistan?

THREE QUESTIONS THAT BOTHER ME ABOUT AFGHANISTAN

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I support our men and women in arms. They are committed, and they are professionals. I love them. That’s why I don’t want them to die for a cause not well defined. They are the kind of young people Canada needs. This is why I want someone to answer following three questions about our involvement in Afghanistan.

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1. If my memory of history serves me right, no outside force ever had military success in Afghanistan: Britain was expelled twice, and Soviet Union retreated despite their overwhelming firepower. Do we really have a chance this time?

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2. This conflict is between conventional armed forces and irregular fighters. The record of success for the conventional army in such a conflict is not all that good. Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, etc. Powerful armies had to leave without success after many deaths of fine young people. Do we not need to employ different kind of methods?

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3. What troubles me more than anything is the fact that the U.S. left the scene to start another war in Iraq. Had the U.S. stayed, there would not have been the current problem of needing more troops. By committing Canadian troops to Afghanistan, we are enabling Mr. Bush to continue a war which was started with a false assumption (a lie).

SENATE REFORM – A NEED FOR A CHAMBER OF SOBER SECOND THOUGHT

SENATE REFORM?

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DO IT VERY CAREFULLY IF YOU MUST, MR. HARPER

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In 1949, Canadian Senate stopped deportation of thousands of Canadians of Japanese origin. If the Senate didn’t stop it, it would have been another shameful page of the Canadian history. This episode makes a strong case for a chamber of sober second thought. Senate may need to be reformed. But let’s not politicize it a la U.S. Senate.

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When the war of 1940 – 44 ended, the law was enacted in the House of Commons regarding the future of Japanese-Canadians. Those who had been interned or removed from their homes in B.C. were given two options; paid passages to Japan or permanent removal from the B.C. coast. It was where many of them had made homes. The scheme was called "Repatriation". That was a misnomer, because majority of them were Canadian citizens, and Japan for them was a foreign country. It was deportation. Many chose Japan because of intolerable experiences of internment and uncertain futures awaiting in unknown parts of Canada where racism was still strong. By the time Senate halted the deportation process, about two thousand Canadian citizens had already been shipped to a country which was devastated by war and where people were starving.

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There may be a case for senate reform. But let’s do it carefully. The Upper House can become another political instrument, which can be influenced by hysteria. Then who will check the excesses.

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September 13, 2006

CANADA AND LEBANON – Has Canada”s role changed for good?

CANADA AND LEBANON

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– Has Canada’s role changed for good? –

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Last time I was in Lebanon, it was in October, 1984. I attended a donors’ conference of the world-wide churches on the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). During those days, I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches and used to go to Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon regularly representing three Canadian churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches. Visitors were representatives of the churches in Europe and North America. The meeting was held in Beirut. Before the meeting, all of us were invited to participate in field trips of various regions to assess the devastation of war. I was asked to survey Southern Lebanon with Wim Schot of the Dutch Inter-Church Aid,.

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The devastation we saw then was just like the ones we are seeing on the TV in the Hezbollah/Israeli conflict. All of us first met at the apartment, which belonged to General Secretary, Gabby Habib, of MECC, in an elegant district near American University. Americans, British, and French delegates were told that they must not leave the apartment for safety. They stayed there for one week, while the rest of us toured the country.

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Wim and I went to Saida first by a boat owned by Falange Forces (Maronite Christians). It was full of heavily armed men. We sailed early morning from Beirut far into the Mediterranean to avoid Druse shells from the coast. About two hours later, we were stopped by an Israeli gunboat. It took an hour to check all of our ID papers. Wim and I concluded that Israelis were the allies of Maronite Christians. By the time we arrived in Saida, it was evening: a 50 km trip if done by land. We toured Saida, Tyre, Nabatiyeh and the Israeli/Lebanese border region. Each night, we were awakened by the sound of gun-fire. It was the time when there were hostages in captivity including American journalists and a British churchman, Terry Waite. We returned to Beirut by land, because presumably by then it was assumed to be safe. We went through check points manned by many warring factions; Druse, Falange, Sunni, Shi’ites, as well as Israeli Defense Force. Never had we been threatened nor barred by any party.

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Why am I telling all this? I want to say that I had never felt grateful for being a Canadian. We were not part of an empire, an impartial honest broker and a trusted peace-keeper. I was proud to carry my passport and grateful for my government. My colleagues who had been cooped up in Gabby’s apartment were envious and wished their countries had the same reputation as Canada and Netherland did.

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My question is: can I do the same now in 2006, after the stand Tory government took during and after the month’s war in Lebanon?

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August 30, 2006

WHO ARE TERRORISTS?

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WHO ARE TERRORISTS?

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Current debate of whether Hezbollah should be de-listed as a terrorist organization reminds me of CBC’s Neil MacDonald’s refusal to use the term, "terrorism" when he was in Israel. "Blood thirsty killers." "Terrorists." "Killers of innocent women and children." I have heard those denunciations from both sides. And they lost meaning to me. It’s all depends which side you belong.

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My friend Peter Davies, an one time lay worker at First United Church in Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, was once talking about people in the Jewish guerrilla groups and called them "Blood thirsty killers". They blew up King David Hotel in Jerusalem before the creation of Israel in1948. It killed many British soldiers including many of Peter’s buddies; Peter was a teenage British soldier. There were ‘some collateral damage’ (meaning deaths among innocent civilians) too. A couple of those "guerrillas" later became Prime Ministers of Israel. One of the terrorists in Africa became the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. A few Canadians journalists called Mr. Mandela a terrorist thirty years ago. They are still being published in Canadian magazines and papers.

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Of course, I condemn indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians: IRA bombings, 9/11, rocket attacks by Hezbollah, and suicide bombing by Palestinians; those are terrorism. However, I remember in the beginning of armed guerrilla uprising by the ANC in South Africa, targetting human lives was prohibited. The targets were properties like hydro power stations. I think that such a rule of engagement separates terrorism from a legitimate fight against oppression. But blood-shed is often unavoidable in violent situations. What do you call a bombing of an apartment building full of civilians, because terrorists also live in it? What distinguishes collateral damage from deliberate killing of innocent civilians? I don’t know.

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That’s why I avoid using the term "terrorism or terrorist". What’s wrong with the word "criminal?"

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August 23, 2006

STOPE THE WAR – LEBANON, 2006

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STOP THE WAR

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I am certain of one thing. Both Israel and Hezbollah must stop killing civilians immediately. Of course, Israel must defend itself. When Prime Minister Harper affirmed the right of the state of Israel, I would have agreed with him if the action Israel was taking indeed was a "measured response." But it wasn’t and it isn’t. That is the whole problem.

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Last time Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, to drive P L O out, 14,000 Lebanese civilians died in the first three months. Israel still had to keep the occupation of Southern Lebanon for next 18 years. An alarmingly large number of Israeli troops began to die. Alarmed Israelis began to question the war in Lebanon and started the Israeli peace movement with such organizations as Peace Now and Women in Black, Yesh Gvul. But even then, the Israeli death were not even one tenth of the Lebanese.

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During the first Israeli war in Lebanon, I was in Beirut in 1984 to attend a donors’ conference to help Lebanon recover from devastation. I still remember the scene of bombed out crumbled buildings and houses everywhere even in small villages in the mountains, like the ones you see on the TV today. One thing that stuck in my mind was the trees, which used to line the beautiful streets of Beirut, like Champ d’Elysee in Paris. Indeed, Beirut used to called "Paris of the Middle East." All the trees I saw from the airport into downtown had no tops. All of them were still standing but cut down to 20 ft from the ground. It was bizarre. It was the result of the intense naval bombardment. Palestinians lived, in the refugee camps near the airport, in the camp called Sabra and Shatila. But bombardment was aimed at downtown Beirut. I don’t think that the deaths among Palestinians was anywhere as many as that of Lebanese.

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The same thing is happening now. It was reported that the deaths among Lebanese reached the 1000 mark this last week, mostly among civilians. Not as many Hezbollah fighters have died relative to civilian casualties. Yes, the death toll among Israeli civilian is alarmingly large, but it still is less than 10% of the number of Lebanese victims. On the average, the rate of foreign casualties as the result of the Israeli military action has always been about 10 times that of the Israeli casualties.

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The use of a disproportionately overwhelming fire power for a short period of time has always been a norm of the Israeli military strategy since 1967. It was used during the Six Days war 1967, and Yom Kippur war of 1973. They were successful in those two wars. But it failed miserably in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000. IDF was stuck in Southern Lebanon for 18 years and had to withdraw because of mounting casualties. When such a ferocious surgical strike does not achieve its objectives in a week, it is a failure. When a population in general turns against you, no matter how powerful your weapons are, you will eventually lose. The US learned that lesson in Viet Nam, and are learning it now in Iraq. Israel should have learned it between 1982 and 2000. Israel was stuck in the quagmire of Southern Lebanon for 18 years despite military superiority. Hezbollah came into being during this period.

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There is a saying in Japan, "Kyoso neko wo kamu." It means "if you chase a little mouse into a corner, it will bite even a big cat." . Both Hamas and Hezbollah were born as resistance against Israeli occupation, because people were cornered with nowhere to go. I watched people humiliated everyday living in a West Bank village of Jayyous for three months. Though I don’t condone the methods employed by Hezbollah, or by Hamas, I could see why a certain number of hot-heads become extremists and start scheming unorthodox – often criminal – methods to bite back like a cornered mouse. It’s a desperate act, hopeless, and criminal, but its origins are understandable.

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I advocate for the state of Israel within secure borders. My two granddaughters are both half Jewish, as a result of the union between a Japanese artist and a Jewish doctor. Imagine, if they were born 60 years ago, they could have ended up in a gas chamber. I can understand very well what 2000 years, imagine 2000 years, of rejection by the whole Christendom does to a psyche of a whole Jewish people. Israel must exist. But if this is so, then, for God’s sake, start making friends with your Arab neighbors! Let’s stop Arabs and Israelis making the whole Middle East another Balkan. Let’s do our best to help both Lebanese and Israeli to start living peaceful normal lives side by side as friends and neighbors.

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WHY CAN”T WE ASK WHY TERRORISTS DO WHAT THEY DO?

A PERSON OF FAITH MUST ASK "WHY".

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I don’t understand an intelligent and reportedly a religious person like British Prime Minister Tony Blair lashing out people for suggesting that there was a connection between the July 7 London bombing and British involvement in the Iraq war. The target of Mr. Blair’s fury includes the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Mr. Blair’s former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Gwen Dyer, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Is it not only legitimate but also imperative to ask why terrorists commit those heinous acts, if terrorism should be stopped?

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After devastating calamities befell on a righteous man like Job, he asked "Why, God?" A "why" question asks for meaning and reason behind events and facts. It is a spiritual quest, which all faith traditions rightly pursue. This is why I believe that religion is basic in our lives. By asking why, we religious people, like Job in the Hebrew Bible, make important contribution to the society by searching for an answer on a deepest level – not just symptoms but root-causes.

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Only a unabashed racist, for example, would speak about a disproportionately large number of Afro-American or First Nations prison inmates without raising the "why" question. When you do, a "why" question leads you to the problem of injustice in our society. Without knowledge of the cause, we will never be able to find the real solution.

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Unfortunately however, when an unspeakably brutal and senseless crime is committed, people who ask the "why" question are often accused of justifying evil. This, of course, is nonsense because analysis does not equals justification. They are not same. Tony Blair made that mistake when he angrily denounce those who made a connection between the London bombing and Britain’s involvement in Iraq War. He called it a "misunderstanding of a catastrophic order." But I believe that real understanding of an issue will expose a true nature of evil thus to a much more forceful rejection of it. Those who seek root causes must not be intimidated by those who accuse them of tolerating evil.

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I, for one, categorically condemn all terrorist acts that cause loss of innocent lives, particularly the suicide bombing that rejects one’s own precious gift of God as well. Meanwhile, I try hard to understand the situation that drives people into such a senseless action, so that a real solution to eradicate violence will be found. I was in Palestine as a member of the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel in the fall of 2003 living in a village in the occupied West Bank. During the three month stay, there were incidents of five suicide bombings. One of them was a 14 years old boy who blew himself up in a nearby village only a kilometer away, a part of our daily jogging route. I came back from the Middle East more firmly convinced that suicide bombing must be denounced. Those bombers were all deceived by evil minds. Those who encourage young people to become martyrs (euphemism for suicide bombers) were not themselves prepared to die. Neither did they really believe what they told the bomber candidates: that their places were guaranteed in heaven. I believe taking other people’s lives and suicide are against Islam. Suicide bombers are perpetrators of heinous crimes just as much as victims of deception. Child soldiers in Congo or Sierra Leon belong to the same category. Suicide bombing is totally unacceptable because it makes both the innocent and the bomber the victims of the diabolic act. The Sabeel Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem rejects it. "Sabeel" is a Palestinian Christian organization and is a partner of the United Church of Canada through sharing of financial resource from the M & S Fund.

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I heard of similar deception in Japan during the World War II. It’s the brain wash the military inflicted on teenage candidates for Kamikaze mission- suicide bombing by fast boats and/or airplanes. One math teacher in my junior highschool was a former fast boat Kamikaze pilot who came home alive because the end of the war came before his scheduled mission. He told us how the military propaganda machine twisted the minds of the innocent young boys. All the boys in the same group were completely intoxicated by the idealism of self-sacrifice as a highest form of patriotism. But every night, sanity always found its way into his consciousness. He tossed and turned in bed trying very hard to figure out how he could bail out before his boat hit an American warship.

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However, if you spend even a day in some place in the occupied Palestine, you would understand why some naive and young people were easily conned into believing such evil acts as noble. The situation in Gaza, for example, is so bad as some newspaper called it "a cesspool of misery and poverty." If you are a resident of a squalor called refugee camp, which is a result of Israeli occupation, and your daily living is exacerbated by daily humiliation at the border crossings and the check points, you will be so angry and easily be persuaded by a twisted logic justifying indiscriminate killing of innocent Israelis. It is important to understand this background. Otherwise, you will never understand why there is no short of candidates for suicide bombing. Or you will never understand why Hamas, an Islamic extremist group, is increasingly popular among Palestinians. (Hamas made a big gains in the recent municipal elections.) Likewise, we must try to understand why an extreme form of Muslim fundamentalism attracts young Muslims. We need to do a lot more background check and thinking.

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We must also recognize that an extreme and violent form of religious practice, often in a form of fundamentalism, is in all religions. During the bloody civil war in Lebanon in the 1980”s, Jason Burke reports in the Guardian Weekly ( July 22-28, 2005 70% of suicide bombers came from Christian groups. He goes on, "Think of the muscular Christianity of imperial Victorian Britain (or, indeed, of contemporary America) or Hinduism’s lunatic fringe (in India). In Sri Lanka, even smiling, happy Buddhism has exacerbated one of the most vicious civil conflicts of our time." I would continue to ask, "What about the Jewish extremist assassin who killed Israeli Prime Minister Izak Rabin or the one who massacred tens of Muslim worshipers at Abraham’s tomb in Hebron? What about Crusaders’ killing field in Jerusalem?" There were KKK’s, Michigan Militia in the United States, and countless others American home-made terrorists which are often connected to one form of extremist Christianity or another. Many of them commit terrorism in the name of religion. We must try to understand each one of those incidents in context and find out where and how believers got it all so very wrong.

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I don’t know of any major religion that does not prohibit taking of lives of other human persons. However, we must recognize that the scope of prohibition evolved particular to universal. In the earlier writing in the Hebrew Bible, the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" was applied only to the Hebrew nation. The king Saul, for example, was condemned by God for not committing genocide of a ceratin number of non-Hebrew tribes despite the Ten Commandment. However, as the scope of religious ideas expanded from particular to universal, so did the jurisdiction of the religious commandments. Christians applied the prohibition just like the earlier Hebrews, only to the Christians, just like a certain type of fundamentalists among us. Happily most of religions apply basic moral principles universally nowadays. Very few people believe that infidels can be killed. However, this particularism is still very much alive among some rigid ideologues and nationalists. I believe that the time has come to apply all our common basic moral principles, such as prohibition of taking human lives universally. Abolition of capital punishment and renouncement of war should be the most logical conclusion of universalism.

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Towards the end of Apartheid in South Africa, one Christian think tank published a document called , "Road to Damascus." It is a document warning the danger of some of Christian fundamentalism which created an ideology totally opposite to the Gospel. As you recall, Apartheid was justified by many believers of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and supported by many Christians of the same persuasion in other countries. In this context, it is useful to recall a history of the African National Congress of South Africa, which for a long time had been called a "terrorist organization", and Nelson Mandela a terrorist. When it began, however, the leadership included people like not only Chief Albert Lithuli, but also many members of clergy as well as Communists like Joe Slovo, both black and white. It declared itself to be a non-violent movement. They staged many non-violent and peaceful demonstrations. It was only after massacre of non-violent demonstrators, and the subsequent banning of the organization, the ANC decided to take violent action. Score of demonstrators were shot in the back as they were fleeing the gun-totting police officers. Even after the decision to launch armed struggle, the ANC aimed at properties only. They were always careful to avoid loss of human lives. It was only other groups which followed the ANC, some took violence against human lives. The ANC until the end maintained respect for human lives.

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Politicians rarely admit publicly that they are wrong, even if they know they are wrong in their hearts. Therefore, it is our duty as Christians to honestly search for truth no matter how it hurts. We must ask ourselves why some people hate the West so much. I don’t think it is right for us to let our Muslim sisters and brothers to fend themselves. We don’t have to defend our faith by denouncing Anti-Semitism and racism over and over again. All sane people know that there are difference between regular Christians and the KKK or Nazism. Let us stand side by side, hand in hand, with people of many faiths, condemn violence and search for truth.

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Tad Mitsui

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Lethbridge, Alberta

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July 30, 2005

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FREEDOM WITH RESPONSIBILITY – Are we free to insult other religions?

FREEDOM MUST BE EXERCISED WITH RESPONSIBILITY

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I just don’t understand respectable academics and journalists, in the name of freedom (of expression, press, and/or speech,) insisting on reproducing the images of Mohammed that enrage many Muslims. I would have thought that freedom is the right of every human person, but must be exercised with responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is often illegal and immoral.

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Why should there be ‘Anti-hate laws’ in a free society? Why should there be the law prohibiting denial of "Holocaust"? Why should anyone, in the name of freedom of speech or press, reject a notion of pornographic representation of Christian images like Jesus or Mary? Some may argue that they are not insulted by those images. But I would have thought that what is offensive is defined by those who are offended not by those who offend.

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Tad Mitsui

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403) 328 6230

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1264 8th Avenue South

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Lethbridge, AB T1J 1R1

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LESSONS FROM DISASTERS

LESSONS FROM DISASTERS

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Tad Mitsui

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A major disaster is still unfolding before our eyes in the media daily. But this time it is in a developed rich country – the United States of America, as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Even the richest country in the world is not spared from the fury of nature. What do we learn from disasters?

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The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia is the worst known natural disaster in human history. The number of confirmed deaths is estimated to be roughly 310,000 – 220,000 in Indonesia alone. >From my experience working as the coordinator of famine relief for the World Council of Churches (WCC) during the African famine caused by unprecedented drought in the 1980s, I would like to list some lessons learned from the Tsunami tragedy, which might also be applicable in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the ’80s, I was based in Geneva, Switzerland and was trying to put some order into the relief work being done by the churches around the world. I traveled extensively in 23 African countries that were experiencing food shortage as a result of the drought. From this perspective, I came up with the following list of lessons I learned about disaster relief.

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1. People are basically good and willing to help when and where there is a need. Amid all the calamities of death and strife, there is hope in the world. Outpouring of goodwill and sympathy through monetary donations and gifts in-kind were overwhelming. Shortage of money is not a problem. For example, in 1984 the WCC initially set $100 million as the target for fund-raising. By the time the church agencies got together in Dakar, Senegal in 1986 for an interim review, the WCC community had raised more than $500 million in two years.

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2. Natural disasters are not exactly "acts of God," as the insurance industry terms them. It is not correct to term natural disasters ‘beyond our control.’ Money still helps to diminish their effects. Jesus did say, "God the Father makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." Rains fall on the poor and the rich alike. But the rich have umbrellas. In other words, the rich can afford to pay for the prevention of disasters and recovery from destruction. But poor people cannot afford these things. For example, the North Pacific has a Tsunami warning system, because it touches two of the richest countries in the world – Japan and the United States. Poor countries in the South Pacific cannot afford to spend billions of dollars for something that may or may not happen for decades. Even in a rich country like the United States, the poor, mostly African Americans, are the ones who were left behind without food and water and many of whom died, because they could not afford to evacuate to a safe place. Three decades ago, a devastating earthquake struck the Southern United States and Central America. In Nicaragua alone, several thousand people died. The same earthquake with the same ferocity struck the San Fernando Valley in California, where only several persons were killed, because of better-built housing and a better preparedness system.

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3. Money is always better than gifts-in-kind as a response to disaster. Money is flexible and thus more efficient and, in the end, cheaper. Best of all, it encourages local economy through the purchase of local products. It delivers more appropriate goods, thus bringing about a quicker recovery and return to self-sufficiency. The United States could easily have provided emergency food and other non-food necessities in Louisiana had infrastructure and organization been in place. Gifts in-kind such as food, medicine, and clothes or volunteers cost money in transportation and other administrative procedures. Gifts in-kind are good for the economy of donor countries, while monetary gifts enable self-help. Monetary gifts help maintain the dignity of victims. We forget that receiving charity is humiliating. External help should always enable and facilitate self-help programs for the victims.

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4. Competent relief organizations require money to maintain their staff and infrastructure. People often demand that their donation go directly to the victims, but it is unrealistic to demand delivery of 100% of your gifts to the victims. While you demand delivery of the donation without overhead, you want your gifts administered competently. It is totally unrealistic to expect unpaid volunteers to run an organization and pay for medical doctors, accountants, logistics officers, technicians and engineers, and the means of transportation such as boats, planes, and trucks. Good organizations always have excellent and skilled experts on the staff. We must eliminate the myth about not spending money for overhead. Of the funds raised for relief, we must expect 25 – 30 % to be budgeted for overhead.

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The churches that are connected to the World Council of Churches have a system called Action of the Churches Together (ACT based in Geneva. ACT is not well known, partly because it does not spend money on advertising. Its approach to relief is to enable the indigenous churches and organizations to do relief. Foreign intervention is limited to a minimum. This is why ACT has very low overhead.

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5. The most important and yet neglected part of disaster relief is persistence. Unfortunately, this is where most of past relief efforts have failed. People forget soon and do not fulfill their commitments or follow up with the necessary course of action. Many pledges are not fulfilled when the interest of the public wanes. Donations fall rapidly after several months, and people soon tire of hearing sad stories of the victims. If we are to help those affected to be prepared for future disasters, follow-up actions in terms of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development are very important. When the public loses interest, governments can afford to renege on their pledges. The disaster of the Bam earthquake in Iran is now long forgotten, and pledges are not even half fulfilled. That was only a few years ago.

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6.The best scenario is that, as a result of external help, the victims will not need outside help in future disasters. India declined external assistance. Normally, rich countries do not ask for foreign disaster relief. It is not only a matter of need fulfilled, but it has to do with our most important values – our dignity. This is why Hurricane Katrina is a great embarrassment and humiliation for the United States. It exposed the Third World nature of the underclass in the richest country in the world. We who live in a rich country do not understand the humiliation of having to receive charity. We must strive to create a world where every human person can help him/herself. That is how God created us.

rn India declined external assistance. Normally, rich countries do not ask for foreign disaster relief. It is not only a matter of need fulfilled, but it has to do with our most important values – our dignity. This is why Hurricane Katrina is a great embarrassment and humiliation for the United States. It exposed the Third World nature of the underclass in the richest country in the world. We who live in a rich country do not understand the humiliation of having to receive charity. We must strive to create a world where every human person can help him/herself. That is how God created us.rn

7.The death toll due to natural disasters is far less than that caused by war. The Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the natural calamity known as the worst in history, killed perhaps at most 310,000 people. But over 200,000 died in a split second as the result of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All together, according to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, about fifty million people died during the four years of the Second World War, including six million Jews. Thirty millions were non- combatants. Millions have died since in military conflicts, though there has not been another world war. Human being are our own worst enemies, not nature. Yet, how much money do we spend for peace? A pittance. It is shameful. We must spend more energy resolving conflict in the world.

rnThe Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the natural calamity known as the worst in history, killed perhaps at most 310,000 people. But over 200,000 died in a split second as the result of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All together, according to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, about fifty million people died during the four years of the Second World War, including six million Jews. Thirty million were non- combatants. Millions have died since in military conflicts, though there has not been another world war. Human being are our own worst enemies, not nature. Yet, how much money do we spend for peace? A pittance. It is shameful. We must spend more energy resolving conflict in the world.rn

I am not touching on the question of poverty. I strongly suspect that the death toll from poverty is even more devastating than from war.

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Tad Mitsui is a retired United Church minister living in Lethbridge, Alberta.

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HUNGER IN THE WORLD – WHY PEOPLE STARVE?

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HUNGER IN THE WORLD

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The reason I claim my expertise to speak about this subject is my experience as the Coordinator of hunger relief for the World Council of Churches during the 1984 – 1989 famine in Africa. About one million people died in Ethiopia alone. It was the result of unprecedented drought that lasted four years.

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The worst natural disaster was the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 which killed about 300,000. But there are two other causes of deaths that are more devastating than any natural disaster. One is the wars: 500 millions in four years, 1941-45 125 million @ year, 34,246 @ day) The other is hunger. 44,000 a day, or 25,000 a day die depending on the way counting is made. That is 100 Jumbo jets crash and kill everyone on board.

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This is quite a contrast to the western statistics that indicate that main causes of death is attributed to over eating or unhealthy eating, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

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Why are we not paying more attention? Firstly, it is overwhelming – we can not handle it. Secondly, it is happening in the poorer parts of the world – Africa mainly, Asia, and Latin America. The solution is quite simple, actually. But we don’t want to deal with it, because it has a lot to do with our life-style and basic idea about life.

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1. We must first of all forget the idea that there is not enough food in the world, therefore the solution is more food – finding ways to make more food or give food to those who have less. It is not the question of us making more food or giving more food to the hungry. The real cause of hunger is poverty. Hungry people are too poor to buy or make food. It is not the problem of availability of food but it is a problem of accessability to it.

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There is plenty of food in the world. The problem is that some people can not buy it, because they can not buy it. People can make food anywhere. The problem is that they are prevented to make food because of economics and politics.

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2. When I first went to look at the feeding camp in Ethiopia, I looked at a few camps in the Northern part of the country, where people were fed to recover strength. Many died, because for them it was too late. When they recover the strength, they were given some grain and seeds, and in many cases implements to start farming. Many died were farmers.

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After inspecting the camps, we were taken to a hotel which stood outside of a feeding camp in Makele in Tigrey Province for lunch. We had a wonderful Italian dishes for lunch. Anyone could eat if they had money.

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3. Africa suffered famine because of drought. But if they were as wealthy as we are, they didn’t have to suffer so much. The last few years of drought in Canadian Prairie was more severe that the drought in Africa. Our country is rich enough to cope with it in terms of loans, and other kinds of financing.

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But African farmers remained poor because they had no saving, nor country had finance. Another factor that exacerbate the problem is the emphasis on cash crop for the country that required foreign currency. They converted food crops into coffee, sugar, peanuts, tobacco, etc. for the country to ean hard cash.

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When Ethiopian farmers were starving, Ethiopia exported more food to Europe. Beef , coffee, and sugar continued to be shipped to Europe. Farmers could not buy it.

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4. When good land was expropriate for cash crop, many men went to work for commercial farms. Production of food crop was left to women. They were not valued and not given credit facilities.

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5. Making people getting out of poverty is the way to feed people. People need dignity to sustain themselves. We do have enough food. New seed variety or fertilizer is not the solution. Also family farms are more efficient that the large scale commercial farms.

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6. I believe in supporting farmers. Japan, Switzerland, etc. We will soon have to pay more attention to water and food. Oil will not be an important factor for our survival.

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Support the troops but question the wisdom of war

WE MUST SUPPORT THE TROOPS BUT QUESTION THE WISDOM OF THE WAR.

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What distresses me is the fact that those who promote the "Support our Troops" ribbon denounce people like me who question Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan do not support our troops. But I say we can support the troops by questioning the policy of our involvement in Afghanistan. There have been many examples of brave and dedicated soldiers sent into battles, which were politically and strategically unwise and wrong. Sending Australians to Gallipoli, Canadians to Dieppe and Hong Kong were examples of politically and/or strategically unwise and wrong decisions causing enormous number of casualties. We honor their sacrifices and remember them so that we will not make the same mistakes. Isn’t it the best way to support our troops by avoiding abuse of their commitment, dedication, and valor which should be drawn upon fittingly to the cause of peace, security and welfare of our world?

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As for Canada’s current involvement in Afghanistan, I do agree that the Taliban regime had to be overthrown, which had openly supported Al Qaida’s terrorist activities. Also we need to help people of Afghanistan to live normal and peaceful lives. They have suffered far too long mainly because of interference of outsiders. But I do question the wisdom of the use of the conventional and regular armed forces to fight irregular combatants who employ unconventional methods and ignore the rules of war. The record of the use of the armed forces in such a warfare is not good; in fact it is disastrous. Mighty armies of Britain, the USSR and the USA were defeated by ragtag bands of irregular fighters who carried nothing more than AK 47”s and hand-held grenade launchers wearing rubber tire sandals. I am not preaching morality here. I am asking a question of practical wisdom. I have a serious doubt about the use of the conventional armed forces against guerrillas.

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I believe that the main weapons in such a warfare should be diplomatic and intelligence services and police. Al Qaida comes from Saudi Arabis and Talibans come from Pakistan; both are supposed to be Western allies. The conventional armed forces are ineffectual instruments to fight guerrilla warfare.

CANADA: My first marriage

MY FIRST MARRIAGE, 1956 – 1984 I married Chieko Fukushima in 1957 and divorced her in 1988. I married Muriel Mellow in the same year. What happened? I still think that it is best to be left alone, untold. Pierre Trudeau wrote in his MEMOIRS 1993) “Anyone who has gone through the break-up of marriage ……….. will understand why I choose to write no more about the matter.” However, I also feel that it has to be dealt with to make me honest and complete.

An easiest way to explain what happened is, like St. Augustine, to make it all my fault and say, “I got tired of my faithful and good wife of 26 years, fell deeply in love with another person.” But this explanation is completely unacceptable on two accounts. I don’t feel that I was so irresponsible. It was not all my fault. Secondly, I am now married to an absolutely wonderful person. To make the whole affairs my fault will insult Muriel. I would never do that. I now have an incredibly good marriage. Also, it must be said that Chieko was a good person. It is not right to make her less than a good person. So like Trudeau, it is best not to analyze it nor mention it any further.

I chose to deal with it by quoting three poems. Chieko’s and my daughter Evelyn’s were written on our 25th Anniversary of my first marriage. The other one was by me at the time of separation.  I post my daughter’s first.

Happy Anniversary! by Evelyn Mitsui, 1981

                                                         A silver kiss for a

Silver Day

for two

silver people

Mommy and Daddy,

I love you.

-Evelyn

 

It takes a whole life time

to find out what you are

…..all about..

Would life be easier together?

Let the tears run down

for the good time

and the bad

‘cause you can cry when

your happy like

when you are sad.

Laughter is rapturous.

Life is for you and me

Solidarity.

 

Momm

 

Like

A dove

flies

 

high….

Freedom.

Momma, will you come back

With an olive branch?

This land below is for you and me.

 

Daddy – Mother Gaea will never change

– Mother Gaea will never change

Stand high! Fight! Left! Right! Left! Right!

You took on the world.

(I think you won the war.)

But Mother Gaea will never change.

Daddy, your squirming worm grew to be a fine butterfly

and now knows how to fly.

This dove is up to fly.

But Daddy the skies are yours.

Threat no more, the war is won.

Papa, your world is our world

And the skies are but one.

 

 

 

 

I AM NOT COMING TO GENEVA WITH YOU

By Chieko Fukushima, 1981

 

No, I’m not coming with you to Geneva.

You will enjoy your study leave

Five and twenty years of

accompanying, that

started with our honeymoon

to Osaka.

It was my first air trip, too.

Waiting and sitting,

A bit of you in between.

Accompanying you was my career

waiting, smiling and listening.

To Vancouver for a decade of

accompanying you

to teas, to suppers, conferences, ordination,

summer schools.

to weddings, to church meetings

on the trip to be interviewed to accompany you

to Paris’ winter,

to seven short years of Africa, then

four long years of Switzerland,

to Toronto,

to many countries in between.

Helped with Sunday Schools,

women’s groups, seniors, youths,

mothers and babies, young adults,

young immigrants.

Our long waited baby came!

Then, less accompanying but more

sewing, knitting, staying behind,

Then driving here, driving there,

east-end to west end

to dance lessons,

piano lessons

English lessons,

Northe to South, Camps & PTA’s.

Painted walls,

laid carpets,

potted plants,

bottled fruits,

made jams,

bought furniture,

got rid of furniture,

packed and unpacked,

Hobby courses of

pottery

cane chair weaving

photography

choir

study groups

English lessons

French lessons

Latin lessons

Doing those things filled my time.

We experienced coup d’etat,

police raid

met a king, a prime minister

espionage, refugees,

murderers, gamblers,

Saw suffering, saw joy

more suspense & poignant than

the war memories of my childhood.

Visitors came from East

” ” ” West

” ” ” North

” ” ” South,

Visitors passing through

each with fascinating stories.

I accompanied you,

trying to be proud of being supportive.

I even believed in it.

Our life was full, wasn’t it? Was it?

Yes,……..it……..was.

Yet, …..yet,

though it is not that it wasn’t enough,

but of different kind

As if it always belonged to

someone else.

I was a spectator,

“I was there”

But then,

I would have been a spectator

All my life, just watching, waiting.

Oh, yes, I did my bit in Africa.

But I was not the commissioned me.

They liked what I did

because it was unexpected.

And, I had to face it

during those long four years.

Yes, so that I can

really turn to face you and say

“Here I am, I’m your partner,

I want to be with you,

I want to share my life with you.”

Not a trip to Geneva accompanying you,

but your patience to watch

a middle age student struggle

and to wait for me to be really me

Is a biggest silver gift

to celebrate proudly our quarter of

a century together.

Love,

Chiko

 

THE WELL

– I wrote these lines in 1984 just before Chieko and I separated.

We had the well,

that had given us clean, cool, and delicious water

for a quarter of a century.

We had to change the pump from time to time,

wait for murkey water to clear after heavy rains.

But good water it gave most of the time.

 

You wanted to find out what”s in it

on the bottom.

Why?  I said.  We had to, you said.

We emptied the whole thing.

What a mess!

Junk, dead animals, muck of all sorts.

 

I could no longer drink of it.

I could not bear the though of it.

I had to give it up.

So I did.

 

Note:

My last name, “Mitsui” stands for Japanese word for “three wells.”  The night before we separated, we went to hear a concert by Gordon Lightfoot.  We cried throughout.  I hardly remember what I heard.

 

 

JAPAN: Exodus – 1945

The war ended on August 15, 1945 in Japan.  I was thirteen.  It was a very hot summer.  The Emperor spoke to the nation on the radio to inform us that Japan had surrendered to the Allied Forces.  Our family by then didn’t have a radio, so we heard the news from other people.  The emperor spoke in the ancient form of Japanese language and some people didn’t understand exactly what he meant.  But everybody knew that the war had ended.  It didn’t matter that we had lost.  I remember feeling very relieved.  I couldn’t imagine how things could get any worse.  Most of us were starving and sick.  I was happy that now we could go back to Tokyo and live with Papa – together as one family.

In early September, Papa came to take us back to Tokyo.   But as soon as he arrived, a typhoon struck Honshu – the main island of Japan.  Ferocious rains washed away many parts of the highway system, and the buses stopped running.  During the war, the military had clearcut many mountains, so there was no tree to stop the run-off.  Trains were running, but there was no way to reach the station except on foot.   Since we could not stand the thought of living in the village even a day longer, now that the bombing of cities had stopped, we decided to walk.  It was about 30 kilometres walk to the Kofu train station.   We had no idea how long it would take us, but we felt that we could not just wait in the village and starve. 

With so much moving around, we had  lost most of our belongings, so the moving back to Tokyo should have been relatively easy.  We had nothing to carry but ourselves.  Even so,  it was not easy.  We were all hungry and weak.   During the last year of the war, food had disappeared from the stores.  Food rations worked well in the beginning, but towards the war’s end, with nightly incendiary bombing, the infrastructure of the country gradually became dysfunctional.  Food distribution became erratic, and coupons meaningless.  Rice was almost non-existent.  Food ration became very bizarre.  Whenever food came, there was usually only one item.  Sometime just sweet potatoes, some other time only barley, etc.   My sisters and I walked around fields and mountains collecting edible plants to supplement the food rations in desperate attempt to make our diet as balanced and as palatable as possible.  Food preparation became a full time preoccupation for the whole family.  But we were not so successful.  Our diet was unbalanced, and we were always malnourished. 

For some reason, there were lots of soybeans.  We ate soybeans in many different forms – boiled, roasted, roasted and crushed, roasted and crushed and ground, etc.  The problem was that soybeans were too rich for a weakened stomach, the result of months of the unbalanced diet.  So we suffered from almost perpetual diarrhea.   Months of loose tummy had made us very weak.  We could barely walk a mile at a time, and had to have a long rest before moving on.

Another serious problem with walking a long distance was the foot-wear.  Clothes we managed because Mama loved to sew.  She turned every piece of cloth into clothes for us growing kids with her cranking sewing machine.  But our shoes had worn out a long ago.  So we all had straw flip-flops called “waraji” on our feet.   They wore out in a very short time  about two weeks.  But they were cheap and easy to make if you could not buy them, as long as you get hold of a bunch of straws.  The problem was; they were hard on bare feet.  They were rough.  Constant rubbing broke the skins, and walking became painful within a few hours. 

Mama took that hand of my nearest sister, Taeko.  She was 11.  Dad carried Junko, who was 5 on his back, and I carried Kokko who was 4.  It was a difficult journey.  The roads were rough and dangerous.  But Papa always had songs to walk with.  That made our life on the road so much more bearable, even fun.  He loved to sing.  His favorite in those days, which became our favorite too, was a song about a traveling monk called “Basho”.  He was a famous 16th Century Haiku master who became known as a sojourner.  He traveled constantly on foot all over Northeastern Japan, and wrote Haiku about nature and historical events that happened at places he visited.  The first verse went like this:

“It is so precious,
    Traveling has become my home. 
    I follow a narrow path
    Covered with tall green grass.
Straps of my back pack
Are hard on the tired shoulder bones of an old man,
    But my staff is ever so comforting.
    Futara mountain in May
    Is full of young green leaves
    Dancing in the sunbeams.”
    
    [The first line and the last constitute Basho’s Haiku.  The rest is an interpretation by another person.  Forgive me, Venerable Basho, for the butchery of your masterpiece!]

In many places, highways had been cut off by landslides.  Some parts had been washed away by a swollen river.  By mid-afternoon of the first day, we were too worn out to go any further.  Luckily, there was a small inn by the road.  Papa knocked on the door and found that the inn keeper was willing to put us up, but could not give us food.  We decided to stay there until our strength came back.   We collapsed on the tatami floor.   Mama went out to look for food.  She came back with lots of sweet potatoes.  She found farmers who allowed people to dig them for free, because they had all been spoiled by flood water.  They looked OK to us.  So we cooked them, and soon enough found out why they were no good for the market.  No matter how long we boiled them, they stayed hard.  So we ate them raw.  Still it was something to fill our stomachs with.  What sustained us, in retrospect, was a huge bottle of Vitamin B supplement Papa brought from Tokyo.  We took one Vitamin pill everyday.  Papa said that an US Army chaplain had given it to him.  The chaplain was a former student of Dr. Charles Eiglehardt*, Papa’s Theology Professor when he was in a seminary.  Dr. Eiglehardt had asked the chaplain to seek out his former students when his regiment landed in Japan.

*Dr. Eiglehardt came to Japan after his retirement, to teach at my Seminary.  I took Missiology from him.

The next day, Papa told me that he and I would walk to Kofu train station, to check the road conditions, to see how long it would take to walk, and to find if there were any hotels or inns on the way if we had to stay the night.   Mama and Papa must have talked about this while we were asleep.   It took us all day to reach Kofu city.  It was easier to walk without carrying a child on my back.  Maybe a day of rest and sweet potatoes had given us some strength.  We reckoned that it would probably take two days with small children.  Kofu city had also been completely leveled by incendiary bombing.  After making sure that the train was running, we looked up a family Papa had known through the church work.  They were a wealthy family who owned a large vineyard.  We found them living in a bomb shelter*.  We were happy to see friends, any friend, because we were never sure during those days who was still living  and who wasn’t.  We had a wonderful dinner!  I couldn’t believe my eyes when white rice appeared.  We all slept in one small bomb shelter that night.*

    *The government had required every household to build a bomb shelter.  But they turned out to be dangerous death traps. Bomb shelters killed many people who went into them during the incendiary bombing.  When the house above was burning, the fire sucked out oxygen out of the shelters and killed people by suffocation.  So we started to use the shelters only as storage to save household items, and not for people.  Ironically, they provided temporary shelters for those people who lost their houses after the bombing.  Many people lived in the bomb shelters for many months after the war until they could afford to build the houses. 
In the morning, our friends packed for us bag lunches to last the day.  It was a glorious autumn day.  It took us more time to go back;  I don’t remember why.  Probably it was because the river had swollen over night.  It might have rained more in the mountains.  I remember hearing the roar of the swollen mountain river all the time we were walking.  At times, the noise was deafening.  We had to overcome more washed out roads and landslides.  We didn’t make it back before nightfall, so we kept on going in the dark.   It was a dark moonless night.  I climbed over boulders, feeling the way with my hands.  We also slid down many sandy hills, which took us by surprise.  I thought we were being very careful not to go near the river.  But suddenly Papa cried,  “Stop.  Don’t move.”  We were on top of a large boulder about the size of a small house.  The roar of the river was deafening.  Papa said, “Look around.”  I looked and saw that we were surrounded by the howling river.  I have no idea how we ended up there.  Walking one step at a time, looking only one step ahead of you, does that, I guess.  Papa said, “Don’t you ever move.  It’s too dangerous.”  We stayed on that rock until dawn.  Papa didn’t sing; we were too scared.   Next morning, as we started to walk, we saw many bodies washed up on the river banks.  We could easily have been among them.  It was so close. 

After only an hour more of trekking, we reached the inn where Mama and my sisters were staying.  They were fine, we started walking towards Kofu.  The rest of the trip was kind of fun.  We knew what we were doing, and Papa had lots of songs and tricks to entertain us kids all the way to Kofu.  We got on the train and reached the church in Tokyo late at night after two days.  Papa’s church was a big downtown church.  So  though much of the building was a burned-out hollow, there were some rooms that were still quite usable.  I was surprised that the power was already restored and there was light.  We put cushions from the pews together on the floor and slept on them that night under a huge drape Papa brought from somewhere to use as a cover.

One thing I can never forget on that first night in Tokyo was Smarties chocolate.  Papa produced boxes of Smarties and gave each of us one box.  I didn’t know what they were.  They didn’t look like chocolate.  They looked to me more like some kind of toys than something edible.  Papa told us to eat them.  I never would have believed that there was anything so delicious.  I remembered chocolates, even though I had not tasted it for years. But I didn’t realize that it was so delicious.  My younger sisters didn’t even know what chocolate was.  It was a taste of the heaven.  Peace at last.  We were home.

rn

Tad Mitsui
November 9, 2000

CANADA: A Letter from Howick – My last pastorate – 1995 to 2000

Dear Mike:

You asked me to write a story of Howick United Church.  But I cannot think of just one story that could cover the whole of this place.  On the surface, it looks like any small pastoral charge you would find anywhere in a farming community.  Yet, I think that this is a very unique place.  I thought about what you asked me a lot.  I decided that the only way I can give you some sense of what this place is about is to write many little stories.

This is my first-ever white Anglo-Saxon congregation since I was ordained in 1958.   My only pastorate in Canada before Howick was a Japanese-Canadian congregation, which I left in 1968 to work in Lesotho, Africa. I shared a university chaplaincy  there with Desmond Tutu, mostly working with black Africans.  Between 1975 and 1995, I was doing church administrative work exclusively, six years in Geneva and later in Toronto and Montreal.  When I was asked to fill in after my retirement, it was to supply a vacant pulpit during the unexpected illness of the regular minister in Howick in Chateauguay Valley in Quebec.  I asked George MacDonald, who as Secretary of the Presbytery had appointed me to this temporary, part-time position, about Howick. The only thing he said was, "They are nice people."  I soon found that they were.   And how!

When I came to Howick, I was burnt out.  This place restored my health. Sure, there could be some skeletons hidden away as in any other community, but still…   When Prof. David Lochhead of Vancouver School of Theology heard that I was appointed to Howick United Church, he told me, "It’s a spot of sanity in the midst of a crazy world." David had spent his sabbatical from Vancouver School of Theology several years before me providing pulpit supply in Howick. Coming from a cynical academic, his words were reassuring.

I came to a congregation basically made up of families with eight Scottish last names.  I was afraid.  When I came to meet with the Official Board, I also found that they were singing from the "blue book", a United Church hymnal that has twice been superceded.  "Oh dear!" I thought.  When I asked a question so carefully constructed it took five paragraphs to articulate, the folks were the type who would answer with one straight- forward word, "Yap."  In a Ministry Personnel Committee meeting, I raised a question about the job descriptions.  The response was, "You love us.  The rest will work out." And it did.

I must say something about Eric.  He is one of those seven-year-old boys who can see through fakery and keep the minister honest.  When the only possible answer can be "No", he asks, "Why not?" He is honest, like any farmer.  No political correctness convinces him. People here are like Eric. It is so refreshing for me after spending 16 years in church bureaucracy.  I am not saying that people lie in a bureaucracy, but you know there are many different ways of saying the same thing.  You can even say nothing in a well-articulated, two-page letter. Instead of talking about global justice, human rights, international debts, and systemic analysis, people in Howick simply love their neighbours.

The average attendance in Sunday worship is around 80 people, about a half  of them children.  It has been a long time since I saw a congregation with families, three generations deep, sitting together in the same pews.  Four-year-old Thomas” grandmother was the organist on my first Sunday. There are six organists on rotation. Thomas could not sit next to the organ during the children”s time; another kid got there first.  He was convinced that it was this rookie minister”s fault that he could not sit next to Grandma.  His unforgiving glare at me lasted a couple of weeks. I am forgiven now.  After all, "The guy is only new and doesn”t know how things work."  This place works on its own – despite the minister.  The minister just has to learn how things work here.

One choir number everybody looks forwards to on special occasions, is "Joan Knox and the children."  Joan is normally a lead alto.  For children, she belongs to their grandparents” generation.  If Amy plays the guitar with the kids, which she does often, the choir is a three-generation event: Grandma, Mom, and the kids.  The chemistry is magic.  An Easter number "Run, Mary, run!" was like a dialogue between Grandma and the children by the fireside.  The interaction between Joan and the children was so spontaneous that it sounded to me better than the choral dialogue between Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp children in the "Sound of Music."  Trust like that can not be built up in a few rehearsals.

On one of my first Sundays, a woman shook my hand at the door and said,  "Come over for lunch on Wednesday."   "Thanks, I will, " said I.  She told me where her place was, " the first house on Highway 203."  I am sure she said more but she had to speak very quickly, as the next person was already shaking my hand.  So she went.  But who was she?  I was too new to know and too embarrassed to ask.  I went to my office and looked at the congregational address book and the map, trying to guess the name from the approximate location and her description, "the first house on 203."  After studying the list and the map, I decided that the invitation must have come from Thyra.  On Wednesday, when I was ready to lunch with Thyra, Evie, the treasurer of the congregation, walked in.  I decided to ask her just to make sure I was going to the right place.  I went to the pew where the woman in question sat, and asked, "Who is the woman who sat here last Sunday?"  Evie replied, "Marjorie Templeton."  "Thanks,” I said. “I nearly went to Thyra”s for lunch. But it was Marjorie who invited me."  Evie said, "Probably Thyra wouldn”t even blink, and give you a nice lunch.  And you”d be forgiven by Marj if you explained what happened.  She will give you supper instead."  I was not used to such unaffected grace.  They are, like Secretary MacDonald said, "nice people."  Indeed.

It has been like that ever since.  Many lunches, and suppers in other homes, zucchini and corn arriving at our door to feast on at home.  But I am not speaking about just meals and vegetables:  I am speaking about good old-fashioned common decency and hospitality.  People are so very ready to help you.  One day, I could not find the psalm ( the prayer book is the old one, which is no longer used in other congregations, at least that’s  my excuse if anyone asks).   A hand appeared from behind and opened the book for me.  It was Rita in the soprano section.  No one has mentioned anything about this, ever.

When we were planning a vegetable garden in the backyard, Brent, a busy dairy farmer, drove up to  the door with a spreader full of manure behind a tractor. "Where do you want this?"  Our tiny vegetable patch became a foot deep with manure after Brent left.  We harvested forty tomatoes a day that summer.

A sushi chef from a Montreal Japanese restaurant wanted to be married to his fiancée who had just arrived from Japan in Howick United, because I was the only minister in Quebec who could speak Japanese. They invited the congregation to please attend the wedding, because  they knew very few people in Montreal and it would be sad to show the parents in Japan a picture of a tiny wedding party.  A whole bunch of people showed up to celebrate the union of the chef and his bride, even though it was in the middle of the busy ploughing season in May.  Nobody knew the couple, nor did they ever see them again. The people of Howick United are not the type who frequent Japanese restaurants.

After the horrible ice storm in 1998, the congregation had celebrated with a "We beat the ice storm of the century" dinner in the church basement.  We enjoyed talking about not taking a shower for two weeks, dead frozen house plants, etc.  "It could be worse,"  we agreed.  People spoke a lot about the nice feeling of living in a community that cared.  Was it typical Scottish denial?  I don”t think so.  I think that the sentiment was genuine.  I for one had had a good time living with friends in a home with a wood stove and a generator.  It was like camping.

From the way they love their neighbours, I am sure they know how to care globally.  This is what Doug Hall calls, moving from the particular grace to the general.  If you dearly love one person, you will know how to love the whole of humanity, Hall would say.

I can write a whole lot more about Howick: the Ormstown County Fair, the annual Chicken Pie Lunch, the Mitten Tree, and all that.  It is indeed a rare spot of sanity, as David Lochhead discovered earlier.  But this will do for the time being.  I may write more about Howick later.

We still subscribed to the local weekly, The Gleaner from Chateauguay, after we left Quebec. We call it the news from home.  It is home indeed, now that my ancestors are buried there.

Take care,

Yours truly,   Tad

MY LIFE IN AFRICA: “It snowed before Christmas” – Summer of 1971 in Lesotho

LESOTHO

It snowed just before Christmas in 1971.  This is not incredible if it happened in Canada, but it was in Lesotho in Southern Africa.

Christmas comes during the hottest time of the year, in the middle of summer.  So when it snowed in December, it was an extraordinary event.  Two students were selected to go to Malawi to attend the WSCF (World Student Christian Federation) Southern Africa Workshop from the Lesotho campus of the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland.  I was then the Regional Director of the University Christian Movement of South Africa (UCM) for Lesotho and the Orange Free State of South Africa.  I agreed to drive them in my car to Johannesburg.  Altogether, it was a four day overland journey to Malawi.  The chosen students to represent our university were Gloria Mamba, a Swazi, and Glory Makwati from Zimbabwe (then it was still called Rhodesia both leaders of the United Congregation – an Ecumenical campus ministry which I ministered to jointly with my Anglican colleague, Desmond Tutu.  Neither Gloria or Glory belonged to the UCM, but we had no choice.  All UCM members were in prison for being subversive, after the Prime Minister of Lesotho declared the state of emergency in order to stay in power in 1970, after he was defeated in an election.

Let me first describe briefly my position at the time.  I went to Lesotho at the end of 1968 as a Missionary from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (PEMS) – la Societe Missionaires Evangelique de Paris on secondment from the United Church of Canada.  My ex-wife and I had a child of four.  We spent three months in Paris for orientation at l’Ecole Missionaires on Boulevard Arago near Jardin Luxembourg.  The life in Paris was our first culture shock.  We come to realize that Europe was different from North America. We finally arrived in Lesotho just before Christmas.  The heat was quite a shock to our system flying directly from the cold damp winter of France.  We spent several months in different Mission stations lodging with French and Swiss missionaries on what the French Mission called a “stage” or being probationers learning the language, looking at different kinds of work being done by missionaries of PEMS.   My first assignment was supposed to be the minister of a parish in Morija.  In that village, there were the local headquarters of the PEMS, the Secretariat for PEMS schools, and two teacher’s training colleges – one for men and the other for women.  I only preached in Sesotho only a few times in Morija.  Then, the Protestant position at the university suddenly became vacant, due to a banning order by the South African government slapped on to my predecessor – Dr. Marie-Louise Martin.  It sounds strange now, but then it was considered to be impossible to live in the land-locked Lesotho without being able to go to South Africa for some basic services.  The church decided to appoint me to the university position, because of my ability in English and a graduate degree.  My ministry in Lesotho began officially in early 1970 at the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland as a Protestant Chaplain and a lecturer in Theology.
 
Now back to the trip to Malawi in the summer of 1971.

SOUTH AFRICA

We first drove to Johannesburg to meet with 10 South African students – a day’s journey.   A Swiss missionary colleague, Robert Bezencon, who was living in Johannesburg serving the Basotho miners’ congregation, took us to Soweto to deliver Gloria and Glory to the house where they were expected to spend the night.  During those days of apartheid in South Africa, Blacks were not permitted to stay the night in the white part of the city.  So we left the students in Soweto and I stayed with Robert in his house in the white part of the city.  (Being a Japanese by race, I was legally a honorary “white” in South Africa at the time due to an important trade link with Japan.) Robert was visibly nervous driving through Soweto.  I assumed that it was because it was after sunset, but didn’t know exactly why.  He worked in Soweto everyday.  He should know.  Perhaps he knew crimes were rampant at night and whites were easy targets of criminals at night.  I never found out why.

At the head office of the UCM in Braamfontein near the University of Witwatersrand, I met up   with 10 South African students – nine Blacks and one White.  It was the time when multi-racial organizations were often declared illegal in South Africa.  Some years previously, the Student Christian Movement of South Africa (SCM) was ordered to split up into white and black organizations.  So Blacks inherited the name “SCM” and Whites created the “Student Christian Association” known as “SCA”.  But most of the “non-Evangelical” blacks and whites – in fact, the traditional mainstay of the SCM, didn’t join either of them and formed the University Christian Movement of South Africa (UCM).  All former SCM students in Lesotho in high schools and the University joined the UCM.  The government of South Africa took some time to process UCM’s application to register it as a non-profit organization.  So when I was active in the UCM, the organization did not have a legal status.  

When I was appointed to be the Protestant Chaplain and lecturer at the University in 1970, I automatically inherited the position of Regional Director of the UCM for Lesotho and the Orange Free State.   My first participation in the winter conference of the UCM in July in Johannesburg was a baptism by fire.  That was where I met Steve Biko.  The conference met in a retreat centre in the white part of the city, so Blacks were bussed in from where they slept in Soweto.  Anger was palpable, and particularly among blacks.   It was in such an atmosphere, the blacks staged a walk-out during the 1968 conference and began the Black Consciousness Movement.  The leader was a certain medical student Steve Biko.  But the blacks, while belonging to a black only student organization, never stopped attending the UCM gatherings.  So anger dominated the atmosphere.  Frustrations poisoned the working relationships, though their anger should have been directed to the system, not at each other.  Occasional discoveries of police informers – both black and white – among the delegates, and much too frequent police raids, ostensibly for checking papers, exacerbated the already difficult conference proceedings.  I later discovered that my room-mate at the conference centre turned out to be a police informer.  He claimed that he was a Rhodesian studying in South Africa at the University of Pietermaritzburg.  I should have know that only those white students, who didn’t want to study in the racially mixed Rhodesian University, came to South Africa where universities were segregated.  I felt cold all the time during the conference.  South African buildings and houses are not built for Canadians who are used to insulated buildings in winter.  But I don’t think it not only because of the cold temperature that I was cold all the time.  Winter that chilled humanity to the bones had lasted a long time in South Africa.  Now back to our trip.

We piled into a Toyota Hiace van, and drove to Salisbury (now called Harare) to join 23 more students from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at the University of Salisbury.  We left Johennesburg at about 9 am.  The one and only white student and I took turns to do the 12 hour drive.  There were others who could have driven, but it made life a lot easier for a pale-faced driver to carry a whole bunch of blacks faces.    At The Beitbridge gate – the Rhodesian and South African border, the policeman gathered up all passports including mine and said, “I will give them back to your master.” – meaning the sole white student.  And he did.  If it happens today, I will say to him something like, “What is your name and serial number?  I will see you in court.”  But I didn’t, because by then I had been in South Africa for a few years and got used to hearing the same kind of insult from time to time.  

RHODESIA

Night fell as we drove off the Beitbridge frontier post.  But the Rhodesian road north was dry, flat and straight.  It was a beautiful and easy drive even in the dark. We drove through a typical African savannah with endless stretch of acacia, baobab, mimosa and many many ant hills – some of them ten foot tall.  The highway was paved with black top but was only a lane wide in the centre.  When you ran into an oncoming car, you were supposed to slow down and get your left side wheels off the pavement and pass each other.  ( In South Africa and Rhodesia, they drive on the left side of the road.)  Overtaking a slow moving car ahead of you was more tricky.  The driver of the car ahead must agree to yield.  Otherwise, you have to follow it in a snail speed forever.  It was, also, during the height of the guerrilla war, so driving at night was more complicated.  There was hardly any civilian traffic. The vehicles we ran into were mostly military.  They were carrying black troopers led by white officers.  I never understood why blacks served in the Rhodesian Army.  South Africa never recruited black people into the army to fight other blacks.  In Rhodesia, there were much fewer white people.  Probably the blacks were forced into the Army.  Or for lack of alternative employment, they went into it for money.  Either way, they could not have made good fighting soldiers.  Luckily, we were not stopped by any of the military vehicles, so we managed to get to the Salisbury campus for a late supper.

Mr. A.P.Knottenbelt met us and directed us to the dining room and bedrooms.  He was Dean of Residence and a Lecturer in Mathematics.   He was called  “Knotty” by everybody and was loved by many African activists.   In fact, I never found what “A.P” stood for.  Knotty and I became good friends after I moved to Geneva, because he was administering the scholarships provided by the World University Service International Headquarters.  He was an Afrikaaner and a Methematics professor. He came to Rhodesia because the racial policy of the British colonial authority seemed to him to be tiny bit more acceptable then the South African one.   He became the principal of a prestigious Flecher Highschool.  But at the time of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the white Minority government led by Ian Smith, Knotty refused to fly the new Rhodesian flag, hence fired from the position, and came to the University.

We were surprised that we could eat together at the same dinning room and stay in the same residence.  I took us a little while to realize that Rhodesia, though ruled by a white minority government, was not a racially segregated society as strictly as South Africa was.  The University also was a racially mixed institution.  This took our South African friends by a bit of a surprise.  Some of them didn’t know what to do when they ran into white students in the washroom, for example.  But they didn’t make too much fuss about it and kept their cool.

We got up at dawn, had a quick breakfast and left for Mozambique when it was still dark.  We were joined by 23 Rhodesian students, all blacks except a white middle-aged woman, who was the National Secretary of the Rhodesian SCM.  Her name was Mary Austin. Apparently most of the white students left SCM after the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) by Ian Smith.  The Rhodesian SCM was oppose to the UDI.

MOZAMBIQUE

We traveled by bus into Malawi via Mozambique.   It was the summer of 1971, 10 days before Christmas.  It was the time when South African government was gearing up to clamp down on the UCM for being anti-apartheid and subversive.  There was a guerrilla war going on in Rhodesia and Mozambique.  Snow in the middle of the summer was a fitting start for an eventful journey.  The plan was to reach Malawi, where the WSCF was holding the Workshop at the retreat centre run by the church on Mulanje mountains by Lake Chilwa.  The shortest way to reach Malawi from Rhodesia was through Tete Province of Mozambique, about a 500 kilo metre drive.  By the time we reached the Mozambique-Rhodesia border, it was closed for the night.  So we had to spend the night at the border town called Zinto.  We had no other place to sleep except in the bus.  Throughout the trip to Malawi, the sole white student, whose name I remember only as Haime, had been stuck with me.   In the beginning, I thought that he must have felt closer to me because we shared the driving from Johannesburg to Salisbury.  Or perhaps, I wondered, he felt uneasy being the only white male in the group.  He said he was a university student from Pietermaritzburg.  Though there was something odd about him, I never thought anything of it, least of all, I had no suspicion about him.  I was still naive, I guess.  Starting a friendship with suspicion is not my habit.  It was only after I went back home to Lesotho, I was told that he turned out to be an informer for the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) – a South African version of the Nazi Gestapo.

At Zinto, the bus was full of people sleeping everywhere including the floor.   Many people were taking two or three seats, in a pathetic attempt to try to stretch out.  Haime and I decided to walk around the town of Zinto.  A lovely small town with Portuguese flavors.  But it was full of drunken Portuguese soldiers.  They were a demoralized pathetic bunch of young men.  They didn’t know why they were risking their lives for a hopeless cause, just like black soldiers in the Rhodesian Army.  I don’t remember why we were able to roam around a Portugese Mozambican town without going through any frontier formalities.  It might have had something to do with the fact that both Haime and I were not dark skined.  We went into a bar, had some beer and broiled shrimp.  They welcomed South African money, and everything was so cheap.  Shrimps were delicious.  If you know Mozambican shrimps, you know they are the size of large prawns, seasoned with something green and red and very piquant.  It was fun.  But we were tired, having driven all day and not having enough sleep the night before.  So we went back to the bus, and decided to sleep on the roof of the bus.  We crawled under some canvas sheeting and slept soundly until sunrise.  Conditions were far from comfortable, but at least we could lie flat on our backs.   And it was a beautiful, dry, cool summer night.   Strangely there were no mosquitoes or maybe we were too tired to notice any.

It took a lot of time for our bus to become a part of an armed convoy.  Until I saw the complicated organization to form an armed convoy, I didn’t realize that there was a serious war going on in Mozambique.  Of course, Portugal had to give up all African colonies in a few years later in 1974.  The press, not only the South African but also the Western press in general, reported very little about the war in Portugese Africa.  Portugal was a member of NATO, and was fighting wars on three fronts in Africa – in Angola, Guinea Bisau, and Mozambique.  A member of NATO using American weapons to protect their colonies:  I guess, this wasn’t a good public relation for the West.  So the press covered very little about the war in Portuguese Africa.  I found that the whole of Tete Province was the most fiercely contested region in Mozambique since it was the gateway to the celebrated Cabora Bassa Dam on the Limpopo River – one of the most strategic targets for the FRELIMO guerrillas (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique).  The roads did not seem to be maintained at all.  In fact, there was hardly any pavement left.  In truth, it was a dirt road with many pot holes, a poor excuse for a so-called highway.  It was like driving on a rutted country road.  We were told not to get off the vehicle for the risk of stepping onto a land-mine.  There were armored vehicles in front and back of the convoy of about ten or so buses, cars, and trucks; and soldiers in some of the vehicles.  It was hot and slow going.  We were now in a rain-forest country, with many giant trees including bananas, coconuts, mangoes, and palm trees.   It was so hot and humid, and beautiful and green.  So many colors all around.  I don’t remember feeling scared or tense.  The atmosphere in the bus was no different from any school outing.  A lot of fooling around and singing, and sleeping.  We didn’t stay long in Blantyre, the Capital, after reaching Malawi, and arrived a retreat centre at the foot of the Mulanje mountains very late at night.  We dropped into bed after a simple supper of soup and bread.

MALAWI – The WSCF Workshop for Southern Africa

Next morning, the regional leadership team met with Jose Chipenda to agree on the plan for the workshop.  We met on an outside porch overlooking a spectacular  view of the lake and mountains.  Colors were not only green, but red, yellow, purple – a typical birds-eye- view of African rain-forest and mountains.  It was not easy to work in such a beautiful setting.  Jose, at the time,  was the Regional Secretary of the WSCF for African, and was based in Nairobi.  It so turned out, Jose was well known person in United Church circle in Canada since he was a minister of the Congregational Church of Angola, a partner church.  I was told that by a South African colleague at the workshop that Jose’s brother – Daniel Chipenda was a famous guerrilla commander of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA and had been labeled as “Marxist” in the west.  Jose and I became good friends while we both worked in Geneva afterwards.  I was a bit surprised to find that the plan for the workshop had to be discussed on the day it began.  But in retrospect, it is understandable for Jose and local leadership not to have communicated the details by post and telephones.  The whole region was a war zone, and the black intellectuals were seen as enemies of the colonial and white minority regimes, and were closely watched.  

The only country in the region under independent African government was Malawi, hence the decision to hold the workshop there.  But oddly there was no participant from Malawi.  There was someone from the Youth Work Department of the Presbyterian Church in Malawi attending the opening worship, but no Malawian participants.  Hasting Banda was the President of Malawi, by then the self-appointed President-for-Life, He was a dictator and was running a very tight ship.  He didn’t create an army for fear of a coup d’etat.  Instead, he created the Youth Brigade which acted like a goon squad carrying six foot sticks to beat up any opposition to the regime.  I was told that the SCM program was considered to be too risky under such circumstances, and the Malawi SCM had voluntarily disbanded.  

We affirmed the original idea prepared by the UCM that the core program would be a three day simulation game of the South African situation, interspersed by Bible Study, reflections, and discussion on Christian responsibilities in given situations.  We had such a good time playing the game and shooting our mouths off saying whatever we had in mind, which we could not do in the home situations, even in Lesotho.  It rained a lot.  But when it was not raining the whole terrain lit up with fresh green dotted by flowers in primary colours.  It was absolutely gorgeous – dream like.  We jumped into a pond within the confines of the retreat centre for a swim during the breaks.  Rhodesians and South Africans were not used to such natural beauty.  Their countries were either dry savanna grass land or rocky mountains, if it was not desert.

There was a person by the name of Crosby (I forgot his first name) sent as overseas personnel by the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  He was working at the retreat centre as the temporary coordinator with a Malawian pastor as his partner.  One day, the Crosby family invited all of us to join them in the baptismal Service of their baby girl.  It was held outside by the pond.   It was so beautiful, a magical occasion.  Many guests attended from outside of the conference, but a well-dressed young white woman, whom I had thought to be one of the guests, stayed behind and sat in a discussion group after the baptism.   It looked innocent enough.  I didn’t think much about it.  I thought she was simply curious and decided to listen in for a while.  She was good-looking, blonde and stylishly dressed in a Southern Californian way.  But during the break, Colin Collins, the General Secretary of the UCM called an emergency steering group meeting.  He looked upset.

SPIES

Colin said that she was an uninvited observer and claimed herself to be from the SCA, a white Christian Students’ Association of South Africa.  She flew in from Johannesburg.  She asked Colin to be allowed to sit as an observer from a sister organization.  He didn’t believe her story.  He was convinced that she was sent to spy on South African participants.  What could we do?  We believed in democracy as an important Christian principle.  We believed in operating in an open and free environment.  Kicking out someone who flew all the way from Johannesburg without any proof of a malicious intention sounded like a draconian action, out of character for a democratic Christian organization.  But South Africans were set on kicking her out.  In the end, Jose was delegated to ask her to leave on a technicality: all the students were carefully selected by each University SCM or UCM, and observers also were nominated by the churches.  All this was true.  Since She was no chosen in this way, she was asked to leave. So, she left.  I still don’t know if she was a government spy for sure.  But it is highly unlikely that she was what she claimed to be.

As I said earlier, to start a friendship with a suspicion didn’t agree with my disposition.  Nor did it agree with the gospel values I held dear.  But as it turned out, my South African colleagues were right.  There were not only Haime and the “woman from the SCA”, but also a few other black students planted by the Apartheid authorities.  Some of them exposed their true identities at the frontier police station into South Africa on the return trip.   For example, suddenly some of them were seen standing on the other side of the counter!  Colin Collins and Basil Moore told me all this later.  Apparently, these spies didn’t know who their other colleagues were.  So they were often spying on each other.  One of them I remember was Timothy Moloto, a cousin of the traveling Secretary of the UCM.  We had trusted him because he was a cousin of Justice Moloto..

I had to realize the limitation of pacifism, non-violent resistance, and liberal Christian ethics in a violent and extremely oppressive situation.  It was a Dietrich-Bonhoefferesque conversion for me.  It was difficult for me to accept a need for some violence in an extremely repressive situation.  I grew up respecting my pacifist father, who paid heavily for his beliefs during the WW II.    He died very young as a consequence of the physical and psychological abuse he received at the hands of the Japanese military.  In the simulation game at the workshop, it became clear that liberal values can be detrimental for a radical transformation of a society under the rule of a diabolical power like Naziism or Apartheid.  In the game, people who played the role of the members of Black Consciousness Movement ended up assassinating liberal white friends of black people.  Some time later, Justice Moloto who was Traveling Secretary of the UCM told me to get out of South Africa, if I wanted to stay friends with him.  I don’t think he was speaking rhetorically.

The WSCF Workshop for Eastern Africa

Towards the end of the workshop, we had to deal with a difficult technical problem.  Jose Chipenda wanted two representatives from Southern Africa to attend the Eastern Africa WSCF Workshop in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.  But neither Rhodesians or South Africans would be permitted to enter Tanzania.  All African countries boycotted those two Southern African nationals in order to isolate the white minority regimes.  So Jose’s question was if Southern African students would allow Mary Austin and me to represent them in Dar es Salaam as observers.  Mary had refused to hold a Rhodesian passport and held a British Passport.  I had a Canadian passport.  We were the only ones who could enter Tanzania.  It was a very awkward question.  I was very embarrassed.  There we were, two pale faced foreigners asked to go to a meeting of African students representing Africans who were discriminated against and oppressed by non-Africans.  I don’t think there was anyone who liked the idea.  I still think that it was a bad idea.  Anyhow, we felt we had to honor the group decision, and we flew to Tanzania with Jose Chipenda.

The Eastern Africa WSCF Workshop was held at the University of Dar es Salaam campus.  It was a hot and sticky time of the year.  There were Kenyans, Tanzanians, Ugandans, and Zambians: mostly from English speaking countries.  Ethiopians and Sudanese delegates added a different cultural flavor, in that one came from an Orthodox Church tradition and an indigenous African Christian culture, and the other from a very Evangelical piety with Arab cultural roots.  It soon became apparent that this group was a gathering of people who were mouth-pieces for their governments.  Tanzanians spoke about Julius Nyere’s Self-Reliance, Kenyans about Jomo Kenyatta’s Uhuru (freedom in Swahili Zambians about Kenneth Kaunda’s African Socialism, etc.  Having just left a gathering of Africans students who were basically against everything that had to do with their governments, it was a paradigm shift.  I soon became very tired of hearing students towing their party lines without listening to each other.  I was skeptical.  Governments couldn’t possibly be so good and always right.   I began to question the intellectual integrity of those university students, especially of the Christians among them who were supposed to be beyond the atraction of the worldly powers.  But I kept my mouth shut.

What bothered me most was the uncritical expression of support by their nationals of well-known repressive regimes such as Ethiopia under Haile Selasie and Uganda under Idi Amin – two of the Africa’s infamous  most brutal dictators.   An exception was, however, one silent and thoughtful Ugandan theology student, who stood out among others due to his pregnant silence, which he maintained throughout the conference.  He later turned up in Geneva, in an Anglican priest’s outfit, as the administrator of the World University Service (WUS) Scholarship Program for Rwandan exile students in Uganda.  He was above the world of opportunism, superficial patriotism, and hypocrisy.  

It can easily be explained, of course.  By the early 1960”s, most of the European powers had given up the idea of maintaining colonialism, and were ready to give independence to most of the African countries.  With a few exceptions like Kenya’s Mau Mau guerrilas, most of the African elites were given power without a fight and any popular preparation for democracy.  Ordinary Africans had not realized that their leadership could be as bad and unaccountable, if not worse, as European colonialists.  African tyranny by African elites was in its early stages, and people were still in denial by refusing to identify their leaders as corrupt dictators.  They were going through a difficult process of realizing the universality of power and greed, even among their own people.  It was only Southern Africans who knew the truth about power, and a need for checks and balance.   But most of the university students in other African countries were in denial, especially because they knew that they could be next in line to the seat of power.

Then, an expected thing happened.  Suddenly, a group of Ethiopian students remembered one uniting slogan of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)- “Struggle against Apartheid and racism.”   The OAU had its headquarters in Ethiopian capital, Adiss Abbaba.  No matter how much difference there was among African states, they always agreed that abolishing Apartheid in South Africa was their priority.  And there were two pale faces from Southern Africa sitting among them.  The Ethiopian students decided to turned on Mary Austin and me.  They asked where the oppressed brothers and sisters from South Africa were, and what two oppressors were doing there.  They demanded that Mary and I be expelled from the conference.  Nothing unifies better than a common enemy, real or imagined.  I was expecting something like this.  Most of the students looked embarrassed but didn’t say anything.  How can you speak against motherhood?  The most hypocritical ones, like Ethiopians, were the spearheads of the attack.  Since I had expected something like this to happen, I was not embarrassed nor did I feel threatened.  Mary and I volunteered to vacate the premise.  Jose Chipenda and Bethul Kiplagaat – a Kenyan SCM leader told us not to, and tried to explain the conference the reasons why we had to be the ones who had come to represent the Southern Africans.  The Ethiopians were not happy to accept their explanation, but since the others were ready to accept the reason for our presence, they did not pursued the issue.  But there was no denying that I was uncomfortable staying on in the conference.  I felt restrained to speak or to socialize.  So I often skipped the sessions and walked around the campus and the city of Dar es Salaam.  Probably I should not have behaved as I did.  But I can not deny that I was a reluctant participant of the conference.  In retrospect, the WSCF East Africa Workshop gave me a seed of a belief that once a free South Africa was achieved, it would offer a strong leadership to the rest of Africa in democracy.

The University of Dar es Salaam was newly built outside of the city among the gentle green hills overlooking the Indian Ocean.  There were many tropical plants.  I often spent time looking at the blue sea, watch fishing boat with a typical Arab style square sails coming and going. It was lovely.  But I was alone and terribly missing Christmas and New Year with my family and friends in Lesotho.  This must have increased the negative feeling about the whole conference.  <

JAPAN: My Genesis : in the beginning – 1932 to38

Introduction:

The book has been with me so long as I remember – evidently ever since I was born.  The covers are missing, and pages are beginning to flake.  There are graffiti in many pages.  I remember drawing them myself as a child.  It is almost a miracle that I still have this with me after all the moves I have made in my life.   Produced in 1928 by the Osaka Institute of the Research of Children, it is titled A History of Our Child.  It’s a parents’ self-help record of a child from birth to six years of age.  The Preface on page one says that by filling the blanks on every page according to the prescription, parents can contribute materials to fill six years’ worth of blank pages for their child’s autobiography, as few people know and /or remember what happened to them in their earliest years.  You create a story of a child by filling the empty pages.  So, this one is my story  from birth until the day I started school.  Most of the pages were written by my father: I know his hand writing.  Some were written by my mother.  There are a few pages written by my aunts.  I can not tell which aunt, for I have many aunts.  The following is the translation of those pages.  From time to time, I will add my own comments in brackets.

Family Motto:

“Truth from first to last.

Preach your faith not your doubts.

Let your life say more

Than your words.”

By Henry van Dyke

[This page was written in English].

Birth:

Born at home on February 25,  in the seventh year of the Reign of Emperor Showa 1932 at 2:00 p.m.

Snow was coming down by the tonnes from the morning.  It was the second heavy snow of the year in Numazu.
Father canceled his visit to Dohi – one of his missions.  He ran to the midwife – Mrs. Kohase to report the condition of his wife, because she started a tummy ache in the early morning of the day before.  The midwife predicted that it would probably be late afternoon.  So he sent a cable to Tokyo.
(Obviously there was no telephone in the manse.  In fact, few homes had telephone at that time in Japan.  My mother’s family, hence my father’s adopted family, lived in Tokyo.)

Labor pain started at about 11 a.m in earnest.  Water broke about 2 p.m. and he came soon after.  Grandmother (my mother’s grandmother) was so happy she cried.   He greeted the sun and the world with a gutsy cry.

Father at the time of the child’s birth:

Age: 26
Occupation: Minister of Numazu Methodist Church

This was his first pastorate after his ordination in April, 1931.  His hopes and aspirations for the ministry were huge.  He was extremely busy trying to realize those dreams.  Preaches two different sermons every Sunday, in the morning and in the evening.  Monday: committee meetings for “Kingdom of God Movement”.  Tuesday: Hirai Mission.  Wednesday: Prayer Meeting.  Thursday: Dohi Mission.  Saturday: Kanaoka Mission.

Numazu Church is planning to start a Kindergarten.  Other items on the agenda are: Ebara Memorial Service, Special Event for the Christian Endevours Movement for Ginza Church with Imai and Morinaga, Preaching Missions with Manabe and Yanai, Kingdom of God Movement with Mr. Gakuga, Farmers’ School of Evangelism, Workshop of New Hymns.

A busy man!

[I don’t know what the “Kingdom of God Movement” was.  It sounded like some kind of  Evangelistic organization.  All the names belonged to the Methodist ministers.  I often heard about them when I was a child.]

Mother at the time of the child’s birth:
Age: 25
Occupation: Kindergarten teacher

She was brought up like a princess.  But suddenly she became very keen to learn dressmaking and child care after she found that she was pregnant.   She was determined to bring up the child in the best way she knew.  She had many good ideas partly because she had been working on the plan for the new Kindergarten.  But soon reality set in.  Many good ideas had to be put on hold.  She had good reasons, of course.

She teaches organ,   and is a district leader of the “Association of Friends” and is also Church Organist, on top of being a very busy mother.

During the pregnancy, she took up Art Appreciation, because she believed that it would give the child a head start.  Of course, she played organ more intentionally for the unborn child.  She believed that education began in the womb.

People who were there at the time of birth:

Father of the child: Isamu Mitsui
Mother of the child: Natsuno Mitsui
Grandmother of Natsuno: Toshi Mitsui
Houseboy: Toshiro Shizuka
Midwife: Shiu Kohaze
Assisting the midwife: Maid: Fujino Sano
and Fumie Tokunaga
Mother (of Natsuno): Takeko Takeda
Brother (of Natsuno): Nobuyuki Takeda
The above two came from Tokyo by train.  Birth was predicted to be at about 4 p.m., so they arrived at 4 p.m.  They were late to help the preparation but not late for celebration.  They were a bit disappointed but not too much.

[The things I remember about some of the people mentioned the above:

Toshi Mitsui was the matriarch of the Mitsui clan.  My mother was adopted by her at birth. Because her two boys were killed in the Russo-Japan War at the turn of the Twentieth Century and there was no other boy, she claimed the first born of her married daughter, Takeko Takeda, back to the Mitsui family, who was my mother.  My mother was expected to marry someone who would change his name to “Mitsui” so the family name would continue.  So, the birth of a boy was a special joy to her.  She provided money for a houseboy and a house maid to help my mother who had been brought up like a princess, as my father put it.  Presumably she did not expect that my mother would marry a penniless preacher.

Toshiro Shizuka was a high school boy earning his room and board by helping my mother with heavy housework and in the garden..  I remember him.  He must have played with me a lot.  I remember him wearing his serge navy blue uniform with brass buttons all the time.  Maybe they were his only clothes.

Fujino Sano: I used to have a picture of her holding me in her arms.  She was wearing a Kimono and a white apron in the picture.  But I have no memory of her.

Mrs. Fumie Tokunaga was a dentist’s wife, whose whole family became good friends of the Mitsuis.  I remember her as an elegant lady with elegant kimonos.

Takeko Takeda was my mother’s mother.  By the time her two brothers died in the war, she was already married to Dr. Yukichi Takeda, an army vet.  I remember her delicious food.  I still use some of her recipes when I cook Japanese food.
Nobuyuki Takeda was my mother’s youngest brother.  He was only five, when I was born.  He always treated me like his own brother since neither of us had any male sibling.]

Siblings:

Sister – Taeko born in Numazu in 1933

Sister – Junko born in Yokohama in 1939

Sister – Toshiko born in Yokohama in 1940

[Taeko is a musician and plays and teaches organ.  She was married to a Minister, Rev. Yoshikiyo Ito.

Junko has been educated as a kindergarten teacher in the same training college as the one which trained my mother, Yoyo Eiwa, which was founded by the Women’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Church in Canada.  She is a kindergarten teacher and is married to a journalist,
Minoru Tanihata.

Toshiko is an artist who specializes in designing jewelry, married to Tatsuo Sato, a business man.]

The house where he was born:

The manse of Numazu Methodist Church.

The church building and the manse had a red roof, which was unusual during those days in Japan. Between the church and the manse, there was a big yard, which was made into a beautiful flower garden by Toshichan [the nickname of the house boy – Toshiro Shizuka.]

People who received the announcement:

Yokichi and Takeko Takeda , Shibuya District, Tokyo     [My mother’s parents]
Tamihachi Hiroe, Kutami cho, Kumamoto Prefecture
[My father’s father.  There was no mention of my grandmother. I think her name was Tami.]
Kiyoshi Hiroe, Seoul, Korea.
[ My father’s brother.  He was very close to us and visited us often.
He became a Christian with my father.]

The following printed announcement was sent by post to 150 families.

[It is a pity that Dad did not record the names of the recipients of this announcement:]

“We hope that this finds you well despite the severe winter.  Even though it is the time of national mourning, [I don’t know what the reason for national mourning at this time was.] I wish to make a happy announcement.

On February 25 at 2 p.m. a boy child was given to us.  We name him Tadashi (the Chinese character which means Justice was adopted.)  Both mother and child are doing very well.

Wishing you good health.

February 29, in the seventh year of the Reign of the Emperor Showa 1932)

Isamu Mitsui”

Presents received:

The book, “History of our child” from Kiyoshi Hiroe
Woolen hat and a cape from Katsu Terayama
Box of pastsries from Kazuko Inaba
Crib from the Numazu Church
Many pieces of baby underwear from the women of the parish
Baby outside clothes from Mrs. Yanagihara, Tokunaga, Fujii
And 36 other items that include mainly clothes, cotton, wool, and silk material, eggs in the boxes of dozens, a hampers of fruits, a play pen, a  photo album [Most gifts were from people whose names I don’t recognize.]

46 Telegrams were received:

[Many of these were from family members and relatives.  There was one foreign name –  Rev. Drake-but I don’t know who he was.  Other notables are:
Tomihichi Toda, Reizo Sawada, Kohei Goshi were Dad’s class mates in the seminary.
Antei Hiyane was a Professor of Comparative Religion, who taught me also.]

Naming the child:
On February 27, 1932, we named him “Tadashi” (Justice in Chinese character).  It was my (father) suggestion.

In the Bible Study groups in Numazu and Dohi, we have been studying the Letter of Paul to the Romans.  I was very much attracted by the notion of “Justified by faith.”  I was struggling to understand the meaning of the life justified by faith, and trying to live a justified life.  I hope that our child will grow up to conduct a just life.  I had played with the idea of a name which had a combined meaning of faith and justice, or mere ‘faith’.  But considering the sound of our family name, ‘Mitsui’, I decided that giving him a name with a Chinese character which had the meaning of Justice and pronouncing it in a Japanese way “Tadashi” would be most appropriate.  I pray that he would always by the grace of God be acceptable to Him, and live according to the principles of justice.  We are such imperfect parents.  Our effort to bring him up to be as good as he could be would be a hopeless one.  But by faith, I hope that he would be acceptable for his name’s sake.

May God be generous in his grace upon Tadashi

Expenses:

10 yen       Fee for the midwife
3 yen        For her transportation
2 yen        Fee for her assistant
1.50 yen   The midwife’s expenses
1.70 yen   A basin
0.36 sen   A bucket and a dipper
0.35 sen   Two metal bowls
0.40 sen   Grass mat
1 yen         A hot water bottle, a hot plate

[1 yen during those day was ½ of a US dollar.  My father’s salary then was 40 yen a month.]

Weight:

At birth:          2700 gram
1 month:        4500 gram
3 months:      4600 gram
4 months:       4800 gram
5 months:       5000 gram
9 months:       5600 gram

Umbilical cord:
It came off on the sixth day.  Bowel movement has been regular.

The first outing: [This was written by mother.]
My Bible Study group meets on Tuesdays at Dr. Tokunaga’s home. (Dentist) I have decided to make this Tadashi’s first outing, because there are other young mothers who come with their babies.  On the day I marked as the day, April 19, wind was strong in the morning.  I almost gave up the idea.  But at noon, it suddenly died down.  So I bunddled him up and put a woollen cap on, and went to the Bible Study.  As soon as we arrived, Grandma Tokunaga took over Tadashi.  He slept through the meeting in her arms.  Everybody wanted to carry him, as we were going home.  So I never had a chance until we came back to the manse.  As soon as we came home, he woke up and started to cry.  He must like the Bible study.

First clothes:[ (Also mother’s writing]
Before the birth, my mother sent to me three of her own hand sewn baby kimono.   Because there were always more girls than boys in my family, mother sewed two girl’s kimono, and one boy’s.  So he wore the one and only boy’s kimono on the first day.  But he wore girl’s clothes more often afterwards.

First Toy: [Aunt’s writing.]
A red celluloid ring with bells attached.  He loved it.  He held it in his hand, shook it ringing the bells, and laughed.

First turn in bed: August 2nd.
First laugh: April 7th
First crawl: October 1st

First word he spoke: [Aunt’s writing]
Some time in December, 10 months after birth, he said, “Ta-chan”.  [Ta-chan is a diminutive form of Tadashi.  I was always called Ta-chan even after I grew up by friends and relations.]   Everybody was surprised that he spoke his first word so early.

First tooth: [Mother]
On September 25th, two lower teeth appeared.  He didn’t have any fever.  But he was in a bad mood for a few days.

First walk:
On February 22nd, 1933, he went to Rev. Hirabayashi’s home with Papa.  Papa had lunch with Rev. Hirabayashi and spent all day at his home discussing business.  Tadashi had no problem playing with other members of the family.  He walked a few steps on his own on that day.

First friend:
Mother had a friend Mrs. Miyajima (nee.Ootomo) who had her first child on the same day as  Tadashi.  The baby’s name was Akio.   Whenever Mrs. Miyajima came for a visit, Akio and Tadashi got along very well.  When they were together, there was no trouble.

Kindergarten: [Aunt’s writing]
Airin(Love thy neighbor) Kindergarten
June 2, 1935
Teachers: Miss Winifred Draper, Miss Hori, Miss Murakami

Airin Kindergarten was attached to Tobe Methodist Church where Isamu was transferred.  As soon as he found the kindergarten which was located a few blocks away from the manse, he started to visit the children who were playing in the play ground of the kindergarten.  He made many friends in that way long before he was officially allowed in.  So his delight was impossible to describe when he finally was officially admitted.  He hardly slept the night before his first day at the kindergarten.  He went out early in his pyjamas in the morning before anyone was awake and created some scenes because nobody could find him in the house.  Mama saw him walking towards the kindergarten, and had to bring him back for change of clothes and breakfast.  He never missed even one day.  One day there was a heavy snow.  Miss Draper closed it for the day, but Tadashi went all by himself.  That day, he had the attention of all teachers.

When he was two: [Writer apparently was a man and signed his name.   But the signature is illegible.  I can not recognize his name.  Judging from what he wrote, he must have been someone who used to hang around the manse in Numazu.)
Ta-bo (This was another diminutive form of my name, which was used by people very close to me, closer than those who called me Ta-chan.] In the third year his life was really stubborn and full of mischief.  He rarely listened to Papa.  But he was always straightforward – he was what you saw.  He was growing like a bean sprout.  I often took him to the Beach of Thousand Pine Trees on my bicycle.  As soon as he saw me, he wanted me to take him to the beach, because he loved to watch peacocks on the Imperial summer resort ground.  (In Numazu, there was a Imperial Summer resort, where the Emperor and his family often took summer vacation.)  He was never cheeky.  And everybody loved him.  He loved to wear serge long pants with suspenders making him look like a miniature labourer.  Looking at Ta-bo who was raised with a minimum of restrictions, free spirited, daring, mischievous, and yet straightforward and fair,  I could see how important it is to raise children in a spiritual atmosphere.  (Signature, July 16, 1934)

[Mother wrote]  He was mischievous and very reckless.  He had no fear.  Already, he broke his arm twice.  Once he jumped from a high fence.  Second time, he was watching someone on the ground from a window.  She said, “Hello,” and asked him if he wanted to come down.  He jumped down from the second floor window into her arms.  She and Ta-bo had to go to the hospital.  Mama’s daily prayer was that Ta-bo would grow up with all parts of his body intact.  In May, he learned to pray.  No matter how sleepy he was, he always wanted someone to say prayers before he fell asleep.  I just hope that he would continue to love prayer all his life.  Now he could pronounce almost all the words.  Once he hears a word, he never forgets it.  Aside from his occasional loose tummy, he is a very healthy boy.

The first song he sang:

“If you close your eyes,
You can hear the bells on the sleigh.
Ding, ding, ding.
It’s the sound coming
All the way from the North country.”
[I have no idea where it comes from.  I could not find this song anywhere.]

When he was three: [Mother wrote]
On April 11, 1935, when Tadashi was in his fourth year of his life, Papa was transferred from Numazu, where Tadashi was born, to Yokohama.  For a little while after the move, he kept on demanding that we go home.  Mama didn’t know what to do until he found the kindergarten.  Because he was missing Numazu so much, mother was worried that Tadashi might take a long time to get used to the kindergarten.  How wrong she was.  It is already June, but Tadashi is loving the kindergarten, which makes Mama so happy.

When he was four: [Aunt wrote.]
Ta-bo became four and his mischief quadrupled.  He loved the kindergarten and learned all the songs and all the games and all the dances.  Often at 6 a.m. he woke up everybody in the house singing songs cheerfully and loudly, demanding that he have breakfast, so he could go to the kindergarten.  Papa worked often until late into the night, so he was Tadashi’s worst victim.  His mischievous deeds were quite phenomenal, which at time even depressed his parents.

One day, when Mama was busy doing laundry, Tadashi and Taeko were very quiet for a long time, which pleased Mama.  But how wrong she was.  When she finished the laundry, she went into the kitchen and found Taeko completely covered in white.  Taeko was giggling and happy enjoying the whole incident.  Tadashi had mixed the whole 10 pounds of sugar with ashes from a hibachi on the floor of the kitchen, and was showering Taeko with the concoction.

On another day, he found a bunch of tickets for an important fund- raising concert in Papa’s desk.  He used all of them to play streetcar.  The tickets were all used up for his playmates to get on the imaginative public transport.  He found an ink bottle and changed the color of Papa’s desk top with his hands and his shirts.

When Mama spent all day re-doing the screen doors with expensive rice paper, Tadashi found that he could make holes very easily when he wet his fingers.   New screen doors had thousands of holes, when parents came home.  Scolding him was an exercise in futility.  We often wondered how and where he got all those ideas from.  Mama and Papa were often in despair.  They didn’t know what to do.  After being scolded severely, for example, he cries a little but recovers quickly and asks for sweets.  Miss Draper said one day, ‘Ta-chan is as bad as an American boy!”

One often wonders how Ta-bo manages to be so bad and so innocent at the same time.

Serious illness:  [(Aunt wrote]
On March 10, 1936, he went into the hospital for diphtheria and stayed there for ten days.  He made everybody very worried.  But he came out unscathed and returned soon to his naughty self.

Elementary School: [My own writing]
Ipponmatsu (One Pine Tree) Elementary School, Yokohama
Teacher: Mr. Nakamura
Entered on April 1, 1937

[The above item is the last entry in “the History of Our Child.”]

Ethiopia, Lebanon, and South Africa: My Heroes

A CONVOCATION ADDRESS
by Tad Mitsui – recipient of Honarary Degree of Doctor of Divinity

United Theological College, May 13, 1992

I was expelled from South Africa in 1972.  The authorities did not give me the reasons.  I could as well have been a drug smuggler.  A few years later the Canadian Ambassador advised me that it was a case of guilt by association.  He discovered that my expulsion was due to the company I kept, with people like Desmosnd Tutu and Steve Biko that bothered South African Government. I was not a particularly articulate and powerful demagogue, nor was I effectively subversive.  I was not a dangerous person, but I had bad friends.

The honour you have given me today must be of the same nature.  Honour by association.  I was lucky to have met many brave Christians in my life.  Principal Goldberger wrote in his letter that the United Theological College was giving me the Honourary Degree, and that in doing so the college wanted to emphasize the communal aspect of ministry.  I took that to mean that this is an honour given to a community of people, who were important in my ministry.   Many of them have remained nameless, so I am receiving it on their behalf.  Of those people, today I wish to mention five persons.   All of them are dead now and have no chance of receiving any recognition otherwise.

J”aimerais rappeler en cette soirée le souvenir de cinq amis décédés, mais qui ont vécu en accord avec l”Évangile.  Ces amis ont été d”une grande importance dans mon ministère, que vous honorez ce soir.  Ils sont trois Sud-Africains, une Ethiopienne, et un Palestinien.  They are Maphetla Mohapi, Steve Biko, Abram Tiro, a name-less Ethiopian peasant woman, and Emil Aghaby.

Maphetla Mohapi and Steve Biko were murdered in the same South African prison but one year apart.  Abram Tiro was blown to bits by a letter bomb while exiled in Botswana.  I met those three in Lesotho, where I taught Religion with Desmond Tutu.  They were leaders of the University Christian Movement.  Abram was killed because he was exiled General Secretary of SASO, a black students organization, after it was banned in 1974.  Mapetla was tortured to death.  He was alleged to have taken part in teenagers” up-rising in Soweto in 1976.  I am convinced that the allegation was wrong.  He lived in King Williams Town under a Banning Order unable to go anywhere, and students rioted in Johannesburg, thousands of kilometres away.  Steve”s death in 1977 needs no explanation.  They did not mean to be martyrs.  They were too busy doing things they had to do for Shalom in Hebrew, Salaam in Arabic, and Khotso in Sotho.  They never had time to finish even first degrees.

In Ethiopia, I met this peasant woman in a feeding camp in Makele in 1985, during the height of the famine. We never had time to take the names of victims down.  We had no staff nor time. Thousands died everyday.  I was working for the World Council of Churches as the coordinator of famine relief in Africa.  She was nearly dead by the time she reached the camp.  What struck me was her appearance of dignity and pride even though she was in rags that looked like wounded flesh.  Staff at the camp were having difficulty helping her because she kept insisting that she could do things on her own.  Farmers are like that all over the world: independent and too proud to receive charity.  The reason why she came in such a bad state, was because, even after most of the villagers left in search of food, she stayed behind.  She insisted that she still had something in the house to sell to buy food.  She represents in my mind one million other Ethiopians who died during that period.  She was, like most of other Ethiopians in Tigray, a devout Orthodox Christian.

Emil Aghaby was kidnapped in 1986 in Lebanon.  A mistake: they thought that he was someone else.  Nevertheless, they killed him and dumped his body on a highway.  He was one of the fifty thousand nameless victims of kidnapping.  Only a handful of Western kidnap victims became celebrities.  Western media do not report the names of Arab victims.  He was a Palestinian Christian, Director of Palestinian Refugee Programme in Lebanon.  And I was a liaison person for the Canadian Churches which supported this programme.  I used to meet with him every year for annual programme review.  He was a man of means, and could have comfortably retired in Montreal or Paris surrounded by  grandchildren, who are all well to do professionals.  But he was passionately committed to the welfare of underprivileged Palestinian exiles, overseeing health clinics, vocational schools, and other projects in the refugee camps, which are cesspools of poverty and sickness.

You are honouring those five people today, and many others represented by them.  I am glad that I could do this for them by still being alive.  I was no where near harm”s way because I was a Canadian, not a black South African, an Ethiopian, nor a Palestinian.  I was like a Roman passer-by.  I was an on-looker at the foot of the Cross on a hill.  The hill in Jerusalem.  I was there, but as a witness: privileged, protected, and safe.

It is for me to tell their stories.

Against stereo-type – One size does not fit all.

LET US NOT STEREO-TYPE PEOPLE

Before she was disgraced for plagiarism, the Gobal and Mail columnist Margaret Wente accused the United Church of Canada of being too much of activists, and said that was the reason for declining membership. She must have forgotten that many churches have always been activist throughout history. It’s called prophetic ministry. Religion is not only for personal gratification. It is also very much about society. I resent any stereo-type.

When I lived in Switzerland during the seventies, my 10 year old daughter was often asked by her schoolmates, “Why are you not good in Math?” ( She wasn’t.) It was assumed that all Korean and Japanese children were good in Math. She hated such a stereo-type. People are different. There are Japanese persons who can not handle chop sticks either.

All those who call themselves Christians do not reject evolution and are not for Pro-Life anti-abortion. Then how come the adjective “Christian” is often applied only to the Evangelicals. Muslim brothers and sisters suffer in the West from a stereo-type characterization of “extremists” or even worse “terrorists.” Most of them are not. When I live in Jerusalem in 2003, I met many Israelis who were against the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. All Israelis are not supporters of right-wing Likud Party. Members of the LDS Church suffers from the label “cult.” They are Christians too. Look at the name, “the Church of Jesus Christ.” The First Nations suffer the stereo-type most often. Stereo-typing people is not fair and is wrong. Democracy can be destroyed by such bigoted and racist attitude toward people.

The recent United Church policy statement, regarding the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories, was branded as a political action not worthy of the Christian Church by people like Margaret Wente. They forget there is a strong belief in the Social Gospel since 19th Century with people like Bishop William Temple. Stanley Knowles (United Church), Tommy Douglas (Baptist) were both clergymen who believed that the Gospel must be a good news in societal matters. In fact, those clergy were about the only ones who defended the rights of Japanese-Canadians during the WW II. A large part of my life as a clergy person was a fight against racism in South Africa.

All religions have personal and societal applications. In ancient times, Hebrew people called them Priestly and Prophetic functions. One size does not fit all.

Poor people are hungry anywhere

POOR PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY ANYWHERE

Superintendent of schools for Catholic Schools in Lethbridge Alberta said, “We have far too many children living in poverty and coming to school hungry…. that impacts their learning.”  (The Lethrbuidge Herald September 16, 2012, the headline article)  I wonder how many people connected that comment to the letter by Larry MacKillop on the same paper, the Lethbridge Herald about helping hungry people in West Africa. I believe both articles are talking about the same thing: poverty is the main cause of hunger, not availability of food. Then why do we always talk about producing more food and shipping it to hungry countries.

When I lived in Geneva and was engaged in emergency relief for the drought induced famine in Africa during the 1980’s, we in the aid agencies and aid workers weren’t hungry because we stayed in nice hotels and had money to buy good meals, while people were starving to death around us. In Canada there is plenty of cheap food and too much eating, but there are many children go to school hungry. Eating too much food is killing many of us from diabetes and obesity. What is wrong with this picture? We are overlooking the problem of poverty. Of course, hungry must be fed through charity and aid programs. But it’s like bandaid solution. One should not stop there. We must address the root causes of hunger, poverty.

Money not only gives people access to food, but also gives producers ability to keep producing. Our farmers have farm credit, crop insurance, and all kind of other safety nets. African farmers don’t. So when natural calamity like drought strikes, they can not produce food, neither can they feed themselves. During the famine in Ethiopia in 1987, some people in Italy noticed a label on the can of corn beef ,”Made from Beef from Ethiopia.” during the famine in Ethiopia in 1987. So they stopped giving money. OXFAM, U.K. did some digging and found that food export from Ethiopia during the 1980’s actually increased in beef, coffee, and sugar. The government needed hard cash so the industrialized farming sector received all kinds of assistance.

I know that the food issues are complicated. But overlooking poverty is one of the most serious problems. It’s poor people who go hungry. Problem of hunger is not the question of availability of food but of accessibility to it.

Torture is an unreliable way to obtain information

INFORMATION OBTAINED BY TORTURE IS UNRELIABLE

Since the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, many western governments have been found to be resorting to tortures as a way to obtain information. The U.S. used questionable methods such as water boarding, which is a torture but deny that it is; or using information from the countries that still practice it. I can say from my own experience that torture is not only immoral but it is not an effective way to obtain reliable information.

No, I was not tortured. But being detained for three days in a windowless locked room was bad enough. I would have said anything they wanted just to get out. I wished they asked me what they wanted to know. Nobody came to speak to me. I had no idea why I was kept there. I went crazy. It was in January, 1972 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I was on the way back to my home in Lesotho where I taught at an university. I get off the plane, pick up my car, go home and cook supper for my 8 year old daughter: that was the plan. Her mother went away that morning to a conference. As soon as I got off the plane I was picked up at the gate. The man took away my passport, and took me to a room and locked the door behind him. The room had a proper bed, sort of, and the toilet had a toilet seat. So it wasn’t a jail. Nobody came to talk to me for three days. The thought of my little girl waiting alone in a house wondering where her Dad was drove me absolutely nuts. I just wanted to get out, I would have said anything they wanted to know. I didn’t need any physical discomfort or pain to say things. Could I have said the truth? I didn’t care. Call me a coward, fine, I am a coward. I love my child. I just wanted to get out.

It so turned out, I found out a few years later, that I kept a bad company as far as the South African government was concerned: Desmond Tutu was my faculty colleague in the Religious Studies Department; Steve Biko was a student at the University Christian Movement, etc. But me? Like I said I am not brave: I didn’t say anything dangerous in public; I wasn’t a terrorist. I just kept bad company by default.

I am sure I am not an exception. Not everybody is dangerous nor brave. Like me, they will say anything to get out of pain.

Conrad Black comes to Canada

MONEY TALKS – CONRAD BLACK CAME BACK

(The Lethbridge Herald, May 5, B2)

People love money so they respect someone who made lots of it. Now, no matter how you look at it, the ease with which Conrad Black came back into Canada makes one to believe that it was money that talked. I was an immigrant in Canada fifty-five years ago. I swore to be loyal to the Crown to be a Canadian. So I know how hard it can be for some people to come to Canada. Some one with a criminal record? No chance. Forget it.

The church I was settled (‘appointed to’ in United Church terms) had been rife with conflicts for a long time. The root cause was two so-called “pillars of the church” fighting for influence in the church board. One was the best educated man in the community and the other a millionaire. It was a case of two egos in a small congregation tearing it apart. In the end, people got fed up with them and at a AGM, they elected neither of them to the board. During the private discussion that ensued, one person commented about the millionaire,”But he made lots of money,” as though to say that wealth absolved all the griefs he caused. He was ready to forgive the trouble-maker and to bring him back to the board because he was rich. Money talks.

Do you think it’s why the Canadian justice system goes easy on white collar criminals? Americans are tougher. Black would never have had to go to jail in Canada for what he did. And the public don’t think it is a serious problem for white collar criminals walking free on the street. They wear nice clothes and live in a nice house. Even when they get drunk, they do so away from the eyes of the public. The poor who dress shabbily have no chance, especially when they look like they had too much drink. Charlie Chaplin said, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. If you kill hundreds, you are a hero.” Likewise, if you steal a hundred bucks, you go to jail and can not come to Canada, but if you steal millions you can come back into a mansion in Toronto.

Is the new Criminal Code after the Parliament passed the omnibus bill tougher on financial crime? I don’t think so. You can steal from a widow and stay free. Money still talks.MONEY TALKS – CONRAD BLACK CAME BACK

(The Lethbridge Herald, May 5, B2)

People love money so they respect someone who made lots of it. Now, no matter how you look at it, the ease with which Conrad Black came back into Canada makes one to believe that it was money that talked. I was an immigrant in Canada fifty-five years ago. I swore to be loyal to the Crown to be a Canadian. So I know how hard it can be for some people to come to Canada. Some one with a criminal record? No chance. Forget it.

The church I was settled (‘appointed to’ in United Church terms) had been rife with conflicts for a long time. The root cause was two so-called “pillars of the church” fighting for influence in the church board. One was the best educated man in the community and the other a millionaire. It was a case of two egos in a small congregation tearing it apart. In the end, people got fed up with them and at a AGM, they elected neither of them to the board. During the private discussion that ensued, one person commented about the millionaire,”But he made lots of money,” as though to say that wealth absolved all the griefs he caused. He was ready to forgive the trouble-maker and to bring him back to the board because he was rich. Money talks.

Do you think it’s why the Canadian justice system goes easy on white collar criminals? Americans are tougher. Black would never have had to go to jail in Canada for what he did. And the public don’t think it is a serious problem for white collar criminals walking free on the street. They wear nice clothes and live in a nice house. Even when they get drunk, they do so away from the eyes of the public. The poor who dress shabbily have no chance, especially when they look like they had too much drink. Charlie Chaplin said, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. If you kill hundreds, you are a hero.” Likewise, if you steal a hundred bucks, you go to jail and can not come to Canada, but if you steal millions you can come back into a mansion in Toronto.

Is the new Criminal Code after the Parliament passed the omnibus bill tougher on financial crime? I don’t think so. You can steal from a widow and stay free. Money still talks.

CANADA -Reconnecting with a foster son after 44 years.

BUTCH, MY SON WHO NEVER WAS

– Reconnecting with the foster son after 44 years –

He phoned me out of blue in one Fall evening in 2011. I hadn’t seen him nor heard from him for 44 years. He asked, “Are you Tad who had a foster-son in Vancouver? You called him Butchie, didn’t you. It’s me, Henry.” How did he find me! Yes, we had him, a foster child, for nearly five years in a house on 14th Avenue East in front of the lovely Clarke Park, between Commercial and Clarke. He and our daughter, Evelyn, grew up like brother and sister. Evelyn was born when Butch was two years old. We could watch them playing in the park between holly trees on the grass from the front window. About ten years ago, Evelyn found him on the internet and had a few exchange of email. But he stopped, according to Evelyn.

I don’t remember why we called him “Butch” while his real name was Heinrich Haruo Lichtwer. Now he calls himself Henry. He came to us, my ex-wife Chieko and me, when he was 18 months old. His father, Gary, came and left him with us with one suitcase of clothes. His mother Suzie left father and son for another man or, maybe in retrospect, could have been kicked out. Gary was working as a lumberjack on the Vancouver Island and had no way of looking after the boy alone. That must have been in 1962 or thereabout. We took care of him until he was 6 years old and loved him as though he was our real son. We started to talk about adoption, if Gary’s personal situation was unchanged a little bit longer. We were devastated when Butch went away. Gary found another person and got married. Of course, we had no choice but let him go back to live with his birth-father.

After he left us, he came to visit us on the way home from school a few times. He inspected every corner of the house, helped himself to snack, and kept asking, “How come I don’t live here any more.” One day he stayed until it was almost dark. So I drove him to his new home. But he stopped me a few doors away from home and wanted to get out. It was obvious he didn’t want to be seen with me, coming home in my car. Gary came one day after that and told us sternly to send Butch home immediately if he came again, which he never did.

Gary and Suzy were introduced to us by Kathleen Greenbank, who had been a long time missionary in Japan working as Principal at Yamanashi Eiwa Girl’s School in Kofu, a couple hours train ride North of Tokyo. She wanted us to help them making friends in Canada. Gary was a German immigrant who met Suzy in Japan when he went there for holiday. He worked in the interior B.C. at various lumber camps and often left Suzy alone. She didn’t have any friend in Canada.

During those days, I had a thriving group of Japanese speaking young people at the church who recently came back to Canada. Suzy fit right in. She made many friends among the Kika-Nisei (Returned Nisei Canadians.) They were the peculiar group of Canadian born young people who were shipped to Japan immediately after the war from internment camps with their parents. The scheme was called “Repatriation.” They grew up in Japan. The went to school in Japan and spoke only Japanese. They needed to get together for support each other in the still hostile atmosphere of Canada. They did not fit into the group of Canadian born and bred young people – called Nisei, because they spoke English only and were Canadians in all intents and purposes, while Kika-Nisei were more Japanese than Canadian.

When the WW II ended, the Canadian government devised a scheme to send the Japanese Canadians, who had been living in the appalling conditions of the internment camps in the interior British Columbia, to Japan. It was called “Repatriation” but designation was a misnomer. Many of them were Canadia born Canadians, and Japan was a foreign country for them. The government offered internees two options: going to the Eastern Canada to resettle on their own expense, or going to Japan on Canadian government expense. A majority chose to go to Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg. But many others really didn’t have much of a choice financially, considering the appalling treatment they received and the hostile environment in Canada. About three thousand were shipped to the war devastated and starving Japan before it was stopped by the Senate which repealed the law. During the late 1950’s, they were allowed to come back to Canada. Many young people, though they were Canadians, didn’t have English language because there was no English language schools in Japan when they were growing up.

Suzy learned to drive from Kika-Nisei friends and went to a trade school to become a hair-dresser. Now she had her own money and friends, she began to have her own life in Canada. That in the mean time was the cause of friction between her and Gary. In 1962, they had Henry. They moved to Vancouver Island soon after. I had no idea what happened there.

When Butch arrived, we had no child of our own. We had not idea how to change diapers when the need to do so was urgent and obvious. I remember looking at the little guy all wet and smelly, screaming his head off. We didn’t know what to do. We looked into the suit-case and found what we thought to be diapers and tried to figure out what to do with them. This was the pre-disposable-diaper days. Feeding was no problem. He had enormous appetite.

A first few month, he cried a lot missing parents, went to the window crying “Mommy, mommy.” He insisted to go out to look for her. So we walked a lot with him. Rain or shine, day and night. Whether this became his habit or by nature he loved outdoors, he loved to go outside for a walk. In his bed time prayer, he always added, “God bless outside.“ We had a dog called Dinah, a chocolate coloured mut with some Pomeranian. The dog was, like the saying goes, the boy’s best friend. She was always with Butch every time we had a walk. The city was not requiring leash on a dog during those days.

One October day Butch and Dinah disappeared. That was not the first time, but it was the longest time he was away without adult’s accompaniment. We called the police and one of us walked around the neighbourhood looking for them. At one point, a policeman came to our house to check if they returned. They hadn’t. When we described how the boy and the dog looked like, he said, “Ah, I saw them.” He told us where he saw them. It was quite far away. It was getting dark by the time they came back, on their own, and like a typical Vancouver autumn day a thick fog came down. Without making fuss, Butch said, “I’m tired.” He wanted to eat something right away. I asked him where they were. He said, “I knew where we were. Dinah knew.” The dog and the boy were inseparable. Probably the dog led him home. Not long after Butch left us, Dinah died being hit by a car. Dinah was buried under an apple tree, because she liked eating apples.

Butch loved outside anytime all the time. We tried everything to stop him making a get-away: locking the door, put a harness on him, everything. He was too clever and crafty to be stopped by whatever we devised. It all started when he came to us, wanting to go out to look for Mommy. Even if he was not looking for the parent, he might have liked outdoors anyway. We were lucky that we lived in the house with a park in front. Many large trees, grass, tennis courts, etc. We tagged him with a piece of cloth, name, address, and phone number in every piece of clothes.

One day, a man from a service station phoned and asked, “Do you have a boy named Henry? He is here.” It was near the house, but a couple of blocks away on Commercial Drive. So I rushed there to pick him up. The man at the gas station told me, “He asked me to fill up his tricycle.” He cycled that far without us. At one point, it became quite a handful. So when Chieko became pregnant with our own first child, we asked my mother-in-law to come from Japan to help us.

Butch loved to sing, whatever the song was. When there is a music playing, or whenever anybody is singing in record or in person, he joined in. Words and music didn’t match, of course, but didn’t matter. He sang his heart out. So he loved the church. One year, I was on Sabbatical working on my Master’s thesis and was going to church as a member of the congregation, not as a minister. He always came with us and fully participated in the service, singing or praying. His hymn didn’t sound like anything others were singing but no matter; he sang his heart out. His “Amen” after the prayer was the loudest in the congregation.

One song that made sense was “I love you yeah, yeah, yeah” by Beatles. I remember him singing it on the swing with the boy next door, back and forth, high and low, “I love you yeah, yeah, yeah…” forever. By then he must have been four or five. It must have been Spring time. Birds were chirping. Flowers were blooming. Dinah joined the celebration, “Bow, wow, wow – I love you yeah, yeah, yeah” in dog language. He was a happy child.

One summer we drove to Sacramento, California in our station wagon. I was going to take a summer course at the Pacific School of Theology at Berkeley. Chieko, Butch, Evelyn, and Dinah stayed at the home of Chieko’s sister-in-law in Sacramento. We divided the back of the car into three sections. Front, of course, was the driver and a passenger. Immediately behind us was a play pen for Evelyn, well padded of course, and the last section, again well padded, was Butch’s own play area. It was the days when no seat belt or baby seat was required. We left the back window slightly down for ventilation.

In a motel, we noticed a few missing pieces of clothes on Butch but didn’t take too much attention; he lost his pieces of clothes anyway. Next day, when we stopped for lunch, he was missing one shoe. Not serious until at one point while going in full speed on a highway I heard him shouting, “I’m fishing.” I looked at him on the mirror. He was letting a skip lope flying from the open window. So I stopped the car to confiscate the rope, and noticed he had no shoe.

It was on the road about ten metres behind. He was throwing away his clothes one by one. He was bored. What a rascal! He was an active child, couldn’t stand the boredom.

In March, Muriel invited me to join her for a trip to Victoria, B.C. where she attended a conference. So after the conference, we took a ferry to the mainland to see Butch, Henry, When I propose this reunion, he was not sure. He was scared. When I saw a big man just like a man I saw in a photo at the exit of the ferry landing, I saw a man of mixed emotions. He and I hugged, but a moment later he looked away crying. As soon as we went into the car, the first thing he said was, “They never apologized.” I assumed he was referring to his father and step-mother. He never stopped talking about his abused childhood. I do not want to go into the area outside of my own experience. But it was a horrific story. It is almost like a miracle that he ended up normal. We met his wife, Claudia and two shy sons. We had a wonderful time starting with a pub lunch, good chatting session at his home, and a walk on the beach.

He told us later that he was scared of seeing me again, because I might be disappointed to find how he turned out to be. Nonesense! I was so happy to see him.

Yesterday, he phoned me from Surrey, B.C. where he lives wishing me “Happy Father’s Day.” I have a son? He is now 50 years old, married to Claudia, and two sons, Cameron and Brendan, 21 and 19. Wow!

June 19, 2012

Reading the Old Testament – Ruth and Jonah

RUTH AND JONAH

Conquered nations and minority groups disappear when they fail to keep their spiritual tradition. The stories told around the family tables help hold on to traditions. In Canada, the Fist Nations were nearly destroyed by a deliberate attempt to transform them into Europeans by separating children away from families and prohibiting them of to remember their culture, to use their language, and to practice their spiritual tradition. The Jewish Nation didn’t disappear even though they hadn’t had the country of their own for three thousand years, thanks to the stories that they kept repeating within families. Many of the stories have been preserved in writings. The present day Bible is a collection of those narratives – folk tales, legends, myths, and poems i.e. Ruth and Jonah.

At a first glance, the books of Ruth and Jonah look like history. The name Ruth appears in the Gospel according to Matthew (1:5) as King David’s great-grand mother. Jonah’s name is found in the Second Kings 14:24. But they aren’t history exactly. If they were historically correct, they should reflect the atmosphere of the period between 1200 and 1025 B.C for Ruth. and Jonah between 931 and 910 B.C. Their style and the basic message do not reflect the time when those two persons lived. It is much more reasonable to assume that they are fictions using the names of ancient mythical figures. They are historical novels in that sense. Historical novels are fictions using the names of real persons and events, but embellished freely with a mixture of real and imagined circumstances and events in order to express an opinion.

The common message both Ruth and Jonah carry is: “Foreigners are also God’s beloved.” It is an astonishing idea which is challenging even today. Imagine, these stories were written three thousand years ago. Reality is the opposite: we are not comfortable with anyone who looks and speaks and behaves differently. In those days, all the strangers were seen with suspicion, and were repelled or killed. Marrying such a person? Impossible! But there they are in the Bible giving the opposing message to commonplace xenophobia.

Ruth was a Moab who lived in the east of the Jordan River. Moabites were arch enemies of the Jewish nation. But in the book of Ruth, she married a Jew, Boaz, and became a great-grand mother of the most beloved and respected king of the Jews, David. But what a seduction scene! In the Bible, “foot or feet” is an euphemism for male genital. (Chapter 3) Fiction or reality? Doesn’t matter. Obviously, the opinion about the Moab evolved after 600 years, and they were no longer enemies.

Jonah’s God, God of Israel, loved the Assyrians in Nineveh so much that He did not want to destroy them when they repented. Historically Assyrians beat the Kingdom of Israel and drove them out of existence. If the Israelites were God’s chosen, how could the Assyrians be His beloved? According to the book of Jonah, God of Israel is no longer a tribal god who only favoured Israel. Never mind the man-eating fish. It’s a humorous fish story – of course not true. But what a place, in a stomach of a fish, to offer a heartfelt prayer of confession! (Chapter 2)

A brief historical background: Two Jewish kingdoms disappeared by 587 B.C. Israel was destroyed by Assyrian Empire in 721 B.C., and Judah in 587 B.C. by Babylonian Empire never to forge a country again until 1948 A.D. with the birth of the present Jewish state of Israel. When Babylonians defeated Judah, they destroyed the temple of Jerusalem and made thousands of people in leadership prisoners and transported them to the city of Babylon. They were captives there for fifty years.

The Babylonians planned to wipe Jewish people out of existence. The first step was to prohibit the practice of religion. Without the Temple of Jerusalem and without leadership class of kings, priests, scholars, and prophets, the plan to destroy a nation nearly succeeded. Before the destruction of the Jewish kingdoms, Deuteronomy was discovered behind a stone wall In Jerusalem. What save them was the tradition kept in those writings of Torah (laws) and stories and sayings of prophets. Traditions were kept in the form of stories preserved their customs, culture, language, and spiritual heritage (religion). That was how the national consciousness remained even without land or a state.

While they were prisoners in Babylon, there appeared two opposing ideologies: nationalist and universalist. The first is represented by the books like Esther and Ezra, which emphasized the importance of the purity of faith and race. The later was represented by books like Ruth and Jonah which stressed tolerance and importance of living in peace with other people. It is interesting that both opposing positions are kept in the Bible as sacred documents.

The seeds of the universalist idealism can be found in the Prophet of Jeremiah, who lived at the time of the final defeat of Jewish kingdom and exile. In Jeremiah 29:1 – 15, the prophet advised people who were taken away to a foreign country of Babylon, to settle down and make home in a strange country and be happy. He said, “Build homes and settle down. Plant garden and eat what you grow. Marry (even locals) and have children. Let your children marry likewise so that they also have their children. You must increase in numbers. Work for the good of the cities you live in, though you were brought there as prisoners. Be prosperous where you live.” It still is the same story we tell to the immigrants in Canada. Isn’t it?

Scholars believe that the two books in question, Ruth and Jonah, were written after 428 B.C. By then the Jewish nation was freed to return to Palestine. During the same period, it is believed that Job, Proverbs, Song of Songs, many of the Psalms, minor prophets were written. That was almost 500 years after Ruth was said to have lived. In case of Jonah, there is about 150 years time gap. They are narratives, not laws, sermons, proclamations, or declarations of doctrines. It was the time when they were trying to come to terms with the question: How to keep their culture, religion, and tradition alive while they had already been influenced by Babylonian people, culture, food, and life-style. Some people hated anything foreign while many others enjoyed them and wove them harmoniously into a fusion of the traditional and the foreign – like us in Canada.

The Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) is a collection of stories, granted somewhat jumbled, that tell the evolving consciousness that went through many stages of development. By the time many post-exile writings were written, many universally held ideals like, freedom, justice, love, mercy, and sacrifice have become common themes. Ruth and Jonah, though very short simple stories, represent the highest point of their spiritual journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading the Old Testament – Amos and Hosea

AMOS AND HOSEA

Historical Background: Amos and Hosea worked in the Northern Palestine during the 8th Century B.C. The country where they lived in was called the Kingdom of Israel (Israel); the South was called the Kingdom of Judah (Judah). They were divided Jewish kingdoms. Jerusalem is situated on the border. King David lived in Judah during the 11 Century B.C., and King Saul in Israel. David united the two kingdoms of Abraham’s offspring, and designated Jerusalem as the capital. His son by Bathsheba, Solomon, succeeded the throne and finished building the temple in Jerusalem where the Covenant Box, that contained the two stone tablets Moses was said to have been given on which Ten Commandments were chiseled , was enshrined. Solomon expanded the kingdom beyond Palestine, and made it into an empire that was made up of the present day Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and a part of Egypt and Ethiopia. It was the most glorious time for the twelve tribes of the sons and daughters of Abraham. He married a few hundred wives including the queen of Ethiopia and kept hundreds more concubines. His united kingdom was the most powerful and richest in the region. But it didn’t last long. As soon as Solomon died in 931 B.C., the kingdom split up into Israel and Judah again.

For about two centuries, Israel and Judah fought each other on and off, during which time many books of the present day Old Testament were written including the most of the prophets like Elijah and Isaiah, and Ezekiel known as major prophets. There were also so-called minor prophets like Amos and Hosea. “Minor” here does not mean less important. Their writings are simply shorter than major prophets like Isaiah, which are longer.

Israel, where Amos and Hosea preached, was richer than Judah, because of its abundant natural resources and fertile land. Neither Amos nor Hosea belonged to the established order of prophets (like our Order of Ministry): they were freelance preachers, so to speak. Soon after Amos and Hosea died, Israel would be attacked by Assyrians and the kingdom vanished in 721 B.C. Many foreigners moved in and the land became the land of mixed race known at the time of Jesus as “Samaritans.” Thus ten tribes who had lived in the North became known today as “Ten lost tribes of Israel.”

One hundred forty years later, Judah also was defeated by Babylonians and utterly destroyed in 581 B.C. The leadership of the nation was taken prisoners and were moved to Babylon (today’s Iraq), where they lived for a few centuries in captivity until Persian (Iranian) emperor Cyrus freed them and allowed them to return home to Palestine. It is interesting that because of his act of liberating Hebrews, Persian Emperor Cyrus was called “the anointed one” – Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek, even though he did not know YHWH. (Isaiah 45:1)

 

 

Amos and Hosea: Amos was a herder who lived in poverty near Bethlehem and supplemented his income by growing sycamore figs in the desert. He migrated to more fertile and wealthy land of Israel. He became angry when he saw moral decay of the rich country. He became a self-appointed prickly street preacher. He denounced the rich for not caring about the poor and for exploiting them. He exposed merchants who cheated the poor for using incorrect scales, for example. Their religious practices were insincere, and often practiced idol worship. He predicted the destruction of the kingdom as the punishment from God, which proved to be right. His cry for justice became in recent years, for people like Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and Oscar Romero, a battle cry of the justice seekers. Of course, Amos was expelled from Israel and returned to the land of Judah.

Hosea had a sad marriage. He was a cuckold: his wife Gomer ran away with another man, who quickly betrayed her and sold her to a brothel. But Hosea never gave up on her. He looked for her everywhere in the red-light district, and tried to bring her back to him. People mocked him saying Hosea was a fool going after such a stupid woman. Hosea told his own sad story as a metaphor, as a story of God who never gives up on unfaithful people, and never stops loving them. Though it is a story of the faithful and loving God, it is so vividly told that you know it is Hosea’s own personal experience. It is a powerful story about the love of God.

When you reach the books of prophets, you realize that the progress of a search for the true God, or the pursuit of the ultimate truth, has reached its highest level. A jealous and murderous God of the tribal kings has transformed into a loving and justice seeking God of Hosea and Amos. When you reach the second Isaiah (Isaiah chapters 44 and following), you will find a model of our Lord Jesus Christ in the notion of the suffering servant for the sins of others. One might think that Jesus had the image of God in mind described by prophets like Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah when he acted as he did? God is just, loving to the point of sacrificing himself for those he loved? It’s a shocking discovery, the most unorthodox among religions. No other religion has a god who suffers and dies. God is almighty and powerful, a victor, that is the norm. But God of the Bible is so weak to be crucified for the sake of love. Therein is the ultimate victory: Easter.

The Old Testament is a history of the Hebrew people’s search for the true God. Hence, it is wrong to pick just one part of it to form the whole notion of God like fundamentalists do. You are quite right to be appalled by the terrible image of an inhuman and cruel god in the book of Samuel. Of course, you must reject such a god. You have to read the whole Bible to appreciate the progression of the search for God. You will appreciate how far the Jews progressed in their search once you reach the prophets. We inherited the heritage of that progress.

 

 

Reading the Old Testament – Saul and David

GOD OR KING?

– AN UNRESOLVED QUESTION –

Comments on the First Book of Samuel

Before you read the historical accounts of the Bible, you must see the Jewish history as ours. We read the Old Testament because it was the Bible for Jesus Christ. Through Him, the Old Testament has become our Holy Scriptures. We are reading the Bible of the Jews as a history of their search for God. Our search is the continuation.

For the believers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism the real power belongs only to God. Then comes the next tricky question: Who among us should exercise power on behalf of God. It’s tricky, because no human could hear or see God. Therefore we can not tell for sure who speaks for God. Anybody can lie and says this is the word of God and say “do as I tell you.” And many do. The question is still unresolved. Too many people claim such right, and I say they are all wrong. The Pope claims it: and he is wrong. History proves that he was wrong a number of times. Ayatollah claims it. Dictators, political leaders, fundamentalist religious leaders and preachers claim the divine authority and condemn, and even sanction murders of, those who don’t agree with them. The First Book of Samuel tackles this challenging question in the story of the anointment of the first king of the Jews. When you read the stories of Saul and David, you will realize how reluctant God was giving any human such power as the one kings (in today’s terms political leaders) exercise.

It is poignant that people demanded a monarchy in order to help them fight a war better and kill more enemies. “God is on our side” therefore why shouldn’t God give power to an exceptional human an authority and power to kill as many enemies and win. After Moses, starting with Joshua, every leader whose job it was to speak on behalf of God to resolve disputes (called Judges). They also had to be strong in battles. At least one of them was a woman, Deborah, a very smart tactician, Gideon, and a strong but tragic figure, Samson, etc. However, as the Jews found themselves fighting better organised enemies like Philistines, they wanted and demanded an autocratic and strong leader like kings of other nations, which the Jews hadn’t had so far.

Samuel, the last of the judges, by then concentrated on interpreting the will of God, delegating the fighting part to soldiers, was dismayed, because he thought the demand of people showed distrust of his words. But God told Samuel that it was lack of faith in God not in Samuel. The liberator from slavery in Egypt meant nothing to people any longer: short memories. They want a leader who fights better and wins.

It is interesting that according to the Bible the institution of monarchy is, for that matter all human political institutions and governments are the indication of lack of faith in God. Does that mean a true form of government is theocracy (direct rule of God, like Iran)? We are still struggling to find a solution to that question: “Who should possess the absolute power?” In the history of the Jews, in the end according to Samuel, God relented and allowed Samuel to choose a king of the Jews. The message is: all human authorities are a compromise stems from inadequate faith in God and must be placed under a constant and vigilant scrutiny.

Samuel warned them that a king would force his arbitrary will on them, force them to kill and be killed. King would take their women, property, and freedom at his whim. Ten Commandments were thrown out of the window as far as the kings were concerned except the first three commands! People have no way to balk. But for people, winning wars is top priority even at the price of their freedom and moral compromise. Doesn’t that sound familiar? We surrendered a lot of freedom after 9/11 in the war on terror and allow questionable practices as necessary evil.

What then are the criteria to choose an upstanding man to be a king? No woman was considered though there had been many strong and wise women. Even in England, in the 21th Century, the law of succession was changed to allow the first-born woman to ascend to the throne at last. (Queen Elisabeth II would not have been the Queen, if she had a younger brother. Princess Anne would have been the first in line of succession in stead of Charles.) Anyhow, Samuel found Saul. He was a good looking tall man. There are many other criteria to make a man worthy to be a king, but good looks and big stature came first. Sounds familiar? We are obsessed with superficial “Barbie and Ken” looks. The tall handsome Saul’s attraction is the same as Diana and Kate phenomena. In our TV dominated culture, good look still counts in politics. Nixon lost the election because Kennedy was better looking: “five o’clock shadow” during the TV debate killed Nixon’s chance of winning.

There are other qualities worthy to be a king: strong in battle, popular among people, ability in poetry and music (David became Saul’s confidant because of his poetry and music), etc. But where is an ability to discern the will of God and do the right thing? This final criterion seems to have distinguished David from Saul, and let David win God’s favour. But David too was fraught with weaknesses: adultery and murder among them. But he got away with it, and became the model of a saviour of the nation. What is interesting about the Bible is: it does not hide the ugly side of the heroes. Some accounts of Saul and David’s behaviours are quite disgusting. The Bible does not hide them.

The scholars who engage in textual analysis say it is because the books of Samuel and subsequent historical books, are the collection of two different traditions: one from the North where Saul’s tribe Benjamin lived, and the other from the South where the tribe of Judah from which David came. North and South hated each other. So the scholars say: the bad reporting on Saul was written by the Southern people and anything bad about David comes from the North. At any rate, this makes the Bible unique among ancient legends. More often than not, histories are written by winners, making the winners look always good and the losers always bad. The Bible says, on the other hand, all humans have limitations; they are both good and bad, none perfect.

Eventually the Jewish kingdom split up after Solomon’s death into Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom. They fought each other for a long time. Weakened by civil wars, both kingdoms were conquered and vanished, and the united Jewish nation never came back until 1948. The Jews have dreamed of the return of King David ever since. But that’s another story: Read the books of KINGS.

Disappearing butchers

WHERE ARE BUTCHERS?

We planned a dinner party with Sukiyaki. It is food for an omnivore’s paradise: beef, tofu, green onions, shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, cooked in soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Nobody has disliked it in my experience unless you are a vegetarian: a Swiss friend called it “sublime.” Like Fondue Boeuf Bourguignonne, Sukiyaki needs paper thin Kobe beef or prime rib. I went to the Lethbridge’s best butcher “Alberta Meat Market” as I had done a few times. He knew exactly what was required for Sukiyaki. But he told me he could not do it any more. The new rules prohibit slicing meat by hand nor machine at the shop.

I didn’t give up. I went to the supermarket which sliced Sukiyaki beef once for me before. What do you know? There was no butcher behind the glass window. I was totally stunned. Come to think of it, lately all fresh meat in the refrigerated tubs are all pre-cut and vacuum packed. The regulation does not allow a butcher to butcher any more, except in a factory! We live in a strange new world.

Then I wondered that it could be the result of the measures taken after contaminated meat from a big meat packer company caused deaths and sickness a few years ago. It is ironical that the regulations that are supposed to safeguard the safety of little people like me but end up punishing neighbourhood Mom and Pop butcher shops. The supermarket still cut luncheon meat as thinly as we want. I thought that the fiasco was caused by contaminated processed meat not fresh meat. It’s ambivalent.

You may think this is trivial. It’s for the sake of public safety: just “suck it up.” Maybe. But I am worried about the trend to favour big money industries forcing the Mom and Pop operations to go under. What happened to the corner convenient stores? What happened to shoe repair shops? Recently I had to go around a few jewellers to change a watch strap. It wasn’t easy. You are supposed to buy a new watch, if the strap is broken. I miss a watch repair shop. Creativity comes from independent people. Communities are made up of small businesses who know everybody in the neighbourhood and know their exotic needs.. I know: Time’s changing. I should shut up and fade away. No! I refuse to give up Sukiyaki.

TERRORIST

“TERRORIST” – AN USELESS WORD

The recent “Canada Reads” contest on CBC One, February, 2012, stirred up a controversy because of one panellist’s use of the word “terrorist” referring to a member of Chilean resistance movement. I think the panellist lost credibility completely because of her blatantly ideological bias. Syrian President al Asaad calls opposition, “terrorists.” I refused to use the word “terrorism or terrorist” ever, because all sides use it hence it does not mean anything any more

A President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned for 27 years for being a terrorist. Two past Israeli Prime Ministers, Manahem Beguin and Izaak Shamir, had belonged to the group termed by the British government as terrorist organization. They participated in the bombing of King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing a hundred or more British soldiers towards the end of the British mandate of Palestine. French resistant fighters Maquis were terrorists and executed by the Nazi. The maquis’ were a vital element responsible for the Allied victory. Even a cowardly little me was expelled from South Africa in 1971 under the Terrorism Act. Was I a bomber? No, I had subversive friends like Desmond Tutu.

I don’t remember who it was, but there was a CBC reporter who declared publicly that he would not use the word “terrorism or terrorist” because the word is so elusive that it does not mean anything. I agree.

Arab Spring – Bad News for some

ARAB SPRING IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD NEWS TO SOME

Do not take me wrong. I totally rejoice in the victory of people’s power in the Middle East and North Africa. Those who rose up against tyrants risking their lives are true heroes. However, all is not well to some people. The situation needs a careful handling.

For example, Arab Christians and Israelis are nervous. During my working days, I made many acquaintances in the Orthodox Churches in the Middle East. This is why I know that if I were a Syrian Orthodox Christian, I would be very afraid of a sudden removal of the Assad regime. It has provided a protection to the Syrian Orthodox Church as a safeguard against the majority Sunni Muslims. The situation is the same with the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak was afraid of Muslim Brotherhood and gave protection to the Christian minority as a safeguard against the powerful Islamic movement. Likewise, if I were an Israeli, I would be very worried about a sudden rise of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood in the region, which has already taken power in Tunisia through a democratic process.

Recent pronouncement by the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, echoed by the Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente (Saturday, January 7), emphasized the importance of raising a serious concern about the rising tide against Christians in the world. Both persons also were concern about the diminishing number of Arab Christians in the Holy Land. It is a problem. Ask any church leader in Palestine. One has to acknowledge, however, the Palestinian Christians had to leave their homeland not because of the pressure from the Muslim compatriots, but because of the intolerable conditions created by the decades of Israeli occupation.

For Christians, the situations in Egypt and Syria, is a reminder of the lessons we should have learned about the dangerous temptation of being coopted by the powers that be. The churches in Japan had to confess their complicity in the crime committed by Japanese military regime during the WW II. There are many similar examples such as in Ethiopia, Germany, etc..

A simplistic analysis is not always correct and just. Swinging a sharp two edge sword indiscriminately cuts down good and evil. Let’s not make a complex situation into a simplistic Christian verses Muslim relationship issue, because often it isn’t.

Reading the Old Testament – Abraham

ABRAHAM, SARAH, AND THEIR SONS

Genesis 12 – 23

This collection of stories about Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12 – 23) belongs not only to 14 million Jews in the world but also to nearly a half of human race; Christians, Muslims, as well as to Jews. All of them consider Abraham and Sarah as their spiritual parents. Christians and Muslims make up 3,2 billion people, hence almost a half of the world’s population belong to the tradition that Abraham and Sarah started. However, as I repeatedly said, it is important for us not to think of the Genesis as a history of factual truths, but as stories telling us our fundamental and spiritual truths that make up our personality. They shaped our identity as the people of the Book and children of one God..

Abraham probably lived around 1850 B.C. There must have been many stories told about Abraham and Sarah at Jewish dinner tables or by the camp fire. Some of them must have contained pieces of historical facts. But they probably contained also gossips and rumours, true and/or false, good and bad, whispered between friends and neighbours as well as read publicly in synagogues. All of them were recounted to make specific points, good or bad; cruel or merciful. This is why the accounts of the Genesis are “holy” not “scientific.” Preserving historical facts was least of interest for those who participated in the determination of which books should be included in the Bible. When you read the Bible you must ask, “What is the point of the story,” in stead of asking, “Did this really happened?” Facts were beside the point.

So what are the points of the stories of Abraham and Sarah? There are many stories, some good and inspiring, some utterly horrible, but why were they preserved and became the part of the Holy Bible?

Here I make a few points to set up the background:

The image of God is evolving. In the beginning, God of the Bible had seeds of the belief similar to ours, but not always. Imagine, it’s a horrible god who told Abraham to kill his only son to prove his loyalty. Don’t hesitate to express your outrage in such a story. Hebrew (Jewish) people recorded the progress of their search for the true God. It is a history of the evolving idea of God. People didn’t know any better, so in earlier times they thought God was possessive, jealous, vengeful, tyrannical, etc. As you read through the Old Testament, the idea of God evolves gradually and reaches its height in the books like Isaiah where God is loving, universal (loves everybody regardless of nationality and race), wants peace and harmony among all creatures, even to the point of sacrificing himself (Isaiah 65 and following) for the sake of love. Don’t be afraid to express your disagreement or dislike. We make the same spiritual journey with the Hebrew people (Jews) in search of the true God. Here are some other thoughts that came to my mind as I read the stories of Abraham and Sarah.

1. Abraham packed everything up and moved on (Chapter 12: 1 & 4) from a comfortable settled life in Ur to Haran (Iraq), and into the unknown thus began the notion of “moving on.” Hundreds of servants and thousands of animals! He was a minor king. Civilization always progresses when people migrate. It is not only about physical and geographical move but also changes that happen to ideas. We question accustomed habits and ways of thinking when we move, and try new ideas. That’s how civilization has progressed.

2. Abraham and Sarah became the ancestors of the chosen people. God told them that their offspring will be special people and multiply to fill the world. This is how the Jews came to believe they are a special people. That is how they become proud of their identity. However, you have to realize that almost every nation of the world has the notion of being the special or only people. Chinese think that they are the centre of the world (the middle kingdom is the meaning of the name “China”). The Inuit in the North and the Bantu in Africa also believe that they are the only people. The word Inuit simply means “people.” The word Bantu also means the same. I believe that it is good that every nation consider themselves special, because they are, so long as they don’t become ethnocentric and self-centred. Everybody is special and blessed by God.

3. Abraham’s relationship with God introduces the notion of “Covenant.” (Chapter 17) One of the special manners in which to be related to the Almighty Creator is “covenant.” Our relationship with God is not one way. It is a two way traffic: God acts and we react, we pray and God answers. We don’t just sit and wait whatever God does for/to us. Entitlement requires responsibility.

4. The sign of the blessing from God in the covenant relationship was procreation (baby making). God promised Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of a great nation, countless number of people to fill the earth, like the stars and grains of sand. Making babies was the most important purpose of human race for millennia. The reason was: babies and mothers died devastatingly in large number until recently. Medical science and technology (and improved diet) are slowing down the rate of the infant/mother mortality drastically, thank God. In one hundred years, life expectancy doubled. But as the result, we face a totally different situation. There may be too many people (7 billion) and people live far too long. Is this the time to make a paradigm shift to rethink of reproduction and longevity. They no longer may not be the primary purpose of our lives? Quality of life is. Even the idea of eternal life may need re-examination.

5. Because procreation was of paramount importance in ancient times, the symbols of the covenant relationship were such things as circumcision (Chapter 17) that might help the process of baby making or prohibition of acts that might interfere with procreation. This is one reason why male homosexuality (19) was termed as against God’s law. In many places where climate is hot and clean water scarce keeping penises clean is difficult (in Africa), circumcision has been a part of their custom for a long time. Homosexuality and masturbation were considered to be waste of God given blessing, thus abomination. For the same reason, lesbianism is not the issue and is totally ignored.

 

Some minor point, Abram means a noble father. Abraham means the father of multitude of people. Sarai means a noble woman, and Sarah means a princess.

Reading the Old Testament – Flood

FLOOD

Obviously, the story of a catastrophic flood and Noah’s Ark in chapters 6,7,8, and 9 of the book of Genesis is not a description of a specific world-wide event that actually happened. There was no such event recorded in any archeological finding. It might have been based on a historical experience in a place like Egypt, Babylon (present day Iraq), or Armenia (Mount Ararat is in Armenia). In highschool history lessons, I learned that experience of frequent flooding caused rapid development of civilization in places like China and Egypt. They had to cope with and survive repeated natural disasters, thus helped them to develop science and technology in the earliest human history.

Algebra and Trigonometry were invented and developed in Egypt in order to ensure property rights after devastation where everything was wiped away. Food production was enhanced enormously because floods brought fertile soil from high-lands. Food became abundant. Economy grew fast and population as well. People became affluent. Thus many forms of culture a mark of the civilized society such as artistic and literal culture developed consequently. This is the reason the earliest civilizations were found in flood prone regions of the world, such as China, Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia.

Noah’s Arc represents such a development; building of a big ship and food production. The dove brought back an olive branch when rains stopped. Do you know that this story is the earliest mention of ‘wine’ in the Bible? Olive and grapes are still major cash crops in the Middle East. Noah got drunk and boys were so ashamed of their father’s drunken nakedness. He probably left the left-over grape juice over-night, which became alcoholic. He probably didn’t know.

I want to encourage you to think about the meaning of what the Bible deals with natural disasters. The insurance industry calls it “Act of God”. Why God allows such tragedies to happen Or does God have anything to do with it? Think about the recent catastrophes: earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Japan, and Turkey; or tsunami in Indonesia and Japan, or hurricane in New Orleans. Was God responsible? Were they the sign of the wrath of God for corruption of people?

The ancient Hebrews obviously thought so; the act of God, or punishment. Some fundamentalist TV evangelists like Jerry Falwell suggested that: “Indonesians are Muslims. So God punished them.” Or “New Orleans is a sinful city.” Etc, etc. Do you really believe that natural disasters are punishments from God? How do you answer people who ask, “Why does God do this to me?” If you don’t, how should you understand Noah’s story?

There are other tidbits that may be interesting to think about. What about angels (or heavenly beings) falling in love with beautiful human girls, which God obviously didn’t like? Were the animals who perished with sinful people in the flood also sinful? It sounds so unfair! Or what about the ages of people. Did Noah actually lived more than 600 years? If you believe the account of the Bible is the historical facts, you have to struggle also with the question of incest. How did Cain and Abel produce their children? There was no other humans other than their parents, Adam and Eve.

 

 

Reading the Old Testament – Flood

FLOOD

Obviously, the story of a catastrophic flood and Noah’s Ark in chapters 6,7,8, and 9 of the book of Genesis is not a description of a specific world-wide event that actually happened. There was no such event recorded in any archeological finding. It might have been based on a historical experience in a place like Egypt, Babylon (present day Iraq), or Armenia (Mount Ararat is in Armenia). In highschool history lessons, I learned that experience of frequent flooding caused rapid development of civilization in places like China and Egypt. They had to cope with and survive repeated natural disasters, thus helped them to develop science and technology in the earliest human history.

Algebra and Trigonometry were invented and developed in Egypt in order to ensure property rights after devastation where everything was wiped away. Food production was enhanced enormously because floods brought fertile soil from high-lands. Food became abundant. Economy grew fast and population as well. People became affluent. Thus many forms of culture a mark of the civilized society such as artistic and literal culture developed consequently. This is the reason the earliest civilizations were found in flood prone regions of the world, such as China, Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia.

Noah’s Arc represents such a development; building of a big ship and food production. The dove brought back an olive branch when rains stopped. Do you know that this story is the earliest mention of ‘wine’ in the Bible? Olive and grapes are still major cash crops in the Middle East. Noah got drunk and boys were so ashamed of their father’s drunken nakedness. He probably left the left-over grape juice over-night, which became alcoholic. He probably didn’t know.

I want to encourage you to think about the meaning of what the Bible deals with natural disasters. The insurance industry calls it “Act of God”. Why God allows such tragedies to happen Or does God have anything to do with it? Think about the recent catastrophes: earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Japan, and Turkey; or tsunami in Indonesia and Japan, or hurricane in New Orleans. Was God responsible? Were they the sign of the wrath of God for corruption of people?

The ancient Hebrews obviously thought so; the act of God, or punishment. Some fundamentalist TV evangelists like Jerry Falwell suggested that: “Indonesians are Muslims. So God punished them.” Or “New Orleans is a sinful city.” Etc, etc. Do you really believe that natural disasters are punishments from God? How do you answer people who ask, “Why does God do this to me?” If you don’t, how should you understand Noah’s story?

There are other tidbits that may be interesting to think about. What about angels (or heavenly beings) falling in love with beautiful human girls, which God obviously didn’t like? Were the animals who perished with sinful people in the flood also sinful? It sounds so unfair! Or what about the ages of people. Did Noah actually lived more than 600 years? If you believe the account of the Bible is the historical facts, you have to struggle also with the question of incest. How did Cain and Abel produce their children? There was no other humans other than their parents, Adam and Eve.

 

 

Creation Story

Creation Story

According to the recent survey of what the United Church people believe, 75% of those who belong to the United Church including the ministers believe like I do. Thank God! So I want to articulate what I believe about the creation story without fear of being accused as a non-believer.

The Bible contains the word of God, but is not the word of God. The word of God is Jesus Christ according to the John’s Gospel. In other words, what the Bible stories mean is what God wants us to know about him. I don’t believe that everything I find in the Bible is historical and/or scientific facts; though some of them may be.

1. When you read the chapters 1 to 3 of the book of Genesis, think of the meaning of those stories, without necessarily accepting all the facts as history. Many of them are made-up stories in which the writers tried to express their beliefs, like poetry or fictions, about the relationship between God and the world we live in. For example, numbers have meanings. Seven does not necessarily mean 7, but it means sacred. It is just like people used to believe the number thirteen was unlucky.

2. The first three chapters of Genesis is the result of putting together two sets of writing done by two persons or two different traditions. They have totally different views of God. Chapter one is mainly made up of the writing done by what the scholars call him as “E” taken from the Hebrew word for God “Elohim.” This God does not have a human-like body. He uses only his word to create or change things. “Let there be light!” In most of the English translations, the God of “E”is translated simply as “God.” This word is a title, or the generic word for the divine being, not any particular divinity. It could be a Hebrew God, an Egyptian god, or Hindu for that matter.

3. In chapter two and three, God is referred as “Lord God” in English. It is a distinctively Hebrew, or Jewish, God. The Jews, after the Ten Commandment, prohibited to pronounce the name of their God according to the third commandment “You shall not call his name in vain.” The Hebrew language does not print vowels. The name of God was simply written as “YHWH”. Because they had not pronounced the word so long they forgot the vowels. So in stead of reading his name as written, they simply said, “Lord”. And this God described by this writer, now is known as “J” (In Hebrew J and Y are the same.) God by J is very human-like. He molds by hand the first human out of clay, and takes a walk in a shade in a hot summer.

Some parts of them were primitive and even immature. Some mistaken ideas about God too. The Bible is written by humans, and their understanding of God grew and matured as the time went by. The God in the Bible began as a tribal, selfish, jealous and vengeful god into the universal, just, forgiving, loving, and self-giving God as the history of the Jews and the early Christians progressed. The Bible shows that progress.

Prison – school for criminals

Billion dollars for the school of criminals?

Former Deputy Director of the Lethbridge Correctional Centre Mr. James Wright said in an interview with a Lethbridge Herald reporter on August 22, 2011, “Although there were many bad people at the prison, there were a few who managed to turn their life around.” I was a bit taken aback reading such an honest admission; only “a few” turn around and begin a law abiding life-style? He sounds as though those “few” were exceptions. I thought rehabilitation was the main purpose of the correctional institutions not an exception. Isn’t that why we call the whole system “correctional?” Of course, a popular notion that the prison system is to punish “bad” people and isolate them from good people. But that’s not the stated official policy. It is “correction’; turning problem people into healthy ones, like a hospital. Or the word is just an euphemism and does not mean much. We really mean it is to punish the criminals and put them away as long as possible. Do we? I hope not.

Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Vic Toews says that the government will spend a billions dollar to increase the capacity of the prisons in a next few years so that they can keep criminals locked up and not let them walk free on the streets. However, if our prison system is so ineffective in the implementation of its basic goal, it is an awful lot of our tax money being wasted. Furthermore, I often hear the experience of ex-prisoners who say that the prison is a school for criminals: they learn the tricks of criminal trades and/or join the criminal gangs there. So are we building new prison facilities to produce more criminals?

Another problem I have with Mr. Toews plan is the fact that in Canada, particularly in the West, the First Nation people are over represented among the population of the correctional institutions. We all know this. Expanding the capacity of the prisons without tackling racism in our society and addressing the root causes of poverty and other social issues, the whole “tough on crime” strategy is tantamount to a war against the First Nations. That would be unacceptable.

August 23, 2011

Famine in Africa – 2011

HUNGER IN AFRICA, AGAIN

Again today’s famine in Horn of Africa is making it clear that massive hunger is caused by a conflict, not just drought. Between 1984 – 87, I was called up by the Geneva based World Council of Churches to act as the co-ordinator of the world wide churches’ action against the famine in Africa. The main focus of the action was Ethiopia, where an estimated number of deaths was thought to be about one million people. At the time, a serious war was being waged between the forces of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Tigray.

People like me who lived through the World War II in Europe and Japan must remember the hunger during and after the war. When I went to Southern Africa to work in 1968, people still spoke about, “Save the starving people in England” campaign after the WW II. Food was sent from Africa to Europe. The situation is reversed now. I wonder why we don’t speak about absence of peace as the major cause of hunger often enough.

The drought can be dealt with to minimize its effect. Alberta experienced a serious drought a few years back that lasted for a few years. Remember? There was no war here, of course. So drought was dealt with. Though a serious damage was done to farmers’ lives, but no famine. Today, Ethiopia is going through the same serious drought as Somalia. But the hunger is not as serious as it is in Somalia. In Ethiopian, lessons were learned during the 1980’s: how to avoid the effect of natural disaster to the food supply with the measures like the early warning system, a stock-pile of emergency food, etc. That’s why today Ethiopia is being spared of more serious problem like its neighbour’s. Most importantly, there is no war in Ethiopia. I believe the conflict is the major reason for famine in Somalia. Humanitarian aid is a band-aid solution, though essential to save lives in a short term.. Hunger is basically a challenge of politics. Peace is the solution.

Death as a blessing

CAN DEATH BE A BLESSING?

Nowadays, I am beginning to wonder if the belief in ‘eternal life’ is important anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I love life: I love my wife, my daughter and granddaughters, my cats, good food and wine. I do not want to part with any of them soon. In the mean time, I am sadly aware that all have to go separate ways eventually. The final demise is as sure as anything that can be sure. This is why many spiritual traditions, particularly mine – Christianity, have defined longevity or eternal life as the ultimate blessing. This is why death has often been considered to be an ultimate curse. I am not sure about that anymore. Here is why:

The progress made in recent years in medicine and other sciences have made us live for a long, long time. During the last few years of my career as a clergy person, most of the funerals I conducted were the kind people would say, “I’m glad he didn’t suffer. It was a relief.” My mother died at the age ninety-six. She had been a happy person until the end. She died peacefully in her sleep holding hand of her favourite cleaning lady in her nursing home. Most of her friends predeceased her. Her offsprings had all settled happily one way or another. Her memories had almost gone. She had no pain, not much appetite, and worse thing was she could no longer play piano. She kept saying, “What’s the point? I love you but…”

Of course, no one should die young, in pain, or brutally. Everyone should live as long as possible with good health. It is possible to do this for many people in the industrialized societies. Thank God. But how long? Imagine, people used to die much younger, many in infancy. That’s why, I think, the notions like “eternal life” or “life beyond death” seemed so attractive. My dad died at the age fifty. “Three score years and ten” used to be such a long life that it was a favourite line for many speeches and poems. Now I will pass the point of “four score years” soon. I am not depressed. I am happy. But longevity or life-eternal is no longer my most coveted goal. Peace is. And going back to dust and become a part of the earth comforts me.

Love crows

SOME PEOPLE LOVE CROWS

Crows get bad press in Canada. People do not like crows and magpies. For a person of Japanese origine, I should say that they occupy a special place in my culture.

Crows are an intelligent birds, and very family oriented. They mate for life. A children’s song I learned in the kindergarten sings about crows’ love of their children: “Crows, why do you sing like that? They sing like that because they love their children.” ( ‘Caw’ sounds like “Caw-waii.” It means “a lovely cutie-pie.”)

A famous Japanese writer of children’s stories, Kenji Miyazawa, wrote a short story about a captain of the crow air force. He is a fierce fighter, a brave leader, but easily falls into depression. He is committed to defend his clan, but can not bear the thoughts of killing others, basically he is a kind bird in heart.

Wasn’t it a raven, a species of crow, who fed Prophet Elijiah with bread and meat to survive while he was hiding in a cave? I think crows suffer from bad press around here.

CANADA – Remembering Rhea Whitehead

RHEA WHITEHEAD

The world is not the same without Rhea. It does not mean we crossed our paths often, but she was there at some important junctures of my life as a most trusted ally and a dear friend. Her presence was so comforting and reassuring knowing that we shared the same view of life, in dignity of all people, in justice and peace. We shared the good things in life too; fun and games, good food and wine, laughter and conversation.

When I was seriously contemplating a return to Canada after a decade overseas, it was Ray, her life partner, who told me about a job at the Canadian Council of Churches and urged me to apply. I didn’t know Rhea and Ray all that well at the time. What did they see in me? When I was short- listed and interviewed, Rhea was a member of the panel. After a few months at the Canadian Council, I heard someone quoting Rhea about my presence in the organization as “a breath of fresh air.” How reassuring that was when one was so uncertain about one’s place in the universe on a new job! That comment was more worth than the dozens of sessions on an analyst’s couch. At the time of my personal crisis, Rhea and Ray invited me to their dinner table, just to chat and check in.

We ran into each other, at the Canada-China Program, the Canada-Asia Working Group, the Human Rights Consultative Committee, and some other such things, during this period at the Council. I think she came to stay with us in Geneva when she was attending the UN Human Rights Commission. When I was Executive Secretary for the Montreal and Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada, Rhea was General Secretary of the Division fo World Outreach (DWO). We ran into each other frequently as the senior executives of the church. I could always trust her as an ally with the same views on the matter of faith, of society and the world.

After my retirement, I still saw her regularly at the DWO meetings. She kindly invited me to attend some international meetings on behalf of the DWO and the United Church. Although I never doubted that she trusted me, as a retired person who can easily feel useless and forgotten, her gestures of trust in those assignments were such a booster for my ego.

I thank God for Rhea and her life.

Tad Mitsui

* Rhea died on June 14th, 2011 in Toronto

Lethbridge, Alberta

Lessons from Japan Triple disaster

WHAT THE TRIPLE DISASTER IN JAPAN TEACHES US.

All animals including us humans learn from disasters, misfortunes, and tragedies. It’s an instinct. Thank God. If they don’t, consequence can be deadly. So what are we learning from the recent Japanese triple disaster?

Here are some examples, with an adequate preparation the damage from earthquakes can be limited to a minimum. Even with the magnitude nine quake, hardly any skyscraper crumbled in Japan. It is remarkable that no-one was killed by the earthquake as such. The buildings were made to withstand even such a severe tremor. Roughly 30,000 deaths were caused by the tsunami that came 40 minutes later, not by the earthquake.

Even for the tsunami, the preparedness was almost good enough to prevent such a large number of deaths. Dikes were built to stop, or limit to a minimum, up to an 8 metre high tsunami at the nuclear power station in Fukushima. What they got was 10 metres high. For those who lived on the coast without dikes, there were tall buildings and hills designated as evacuation sites. The whole of security apparatus was ready to tell people to run for those sites, giving them enough time to escape the wall of water. And they did. More than 150,000 people lost homes but survived the tsunami. When I was there, they were in the temporary shelters. An 80 % survival rate. A good preparedness.

As for those who died, I saw an interesting statistics: 48% of those who died of tsunami were over 65 years old. Most of them were swept away and died because they ignored the warning. According to some survivors, they were ready to run when they heard the warning, but they wanted to finish tidying up the homes before they started to run. Houses were in shambles after the earthquake. So, they were busy putting stuff back to the shelves and sweeping the floor, etc. They thought they had enough time to clean the house, and run for safety. But they didn’t; they were not fast enough.

“Rain falls on the just and the unjust,” says the Bible. But if you have an umbrella, you don’t get wet.

CANADA/JAPAN: I VISITED THE DISASTER AFFECTED REGION, 2011

World Council of Churches Pastoral Visit to Japan

by Tad Mitsui

 

I was asked to join a team of visitors from the World Council of Churches to tour the affected region of the March 11 triple disaster in Japan. It took place between May 9 and 14, 2011.

The most intriguing to notice first was near total absence of Caucasians in the flight bound for Japan. This was the first time for me to see the Air Canada flights to Tokyo only two third filled enough space to stretched out to sleep. Likewise Tokyo streets were almost devoid of white faces. My nephew who works for the Nissan Motors told me that all foreign employees went home.

In contrast to the absence of foreigners, outside of the affected region, life was normal. Azalea that lines every street was in full bloom. Lights were slightly dimmed and a quarter of escalators were not operating – an attempts to save energy. Billboards were everywhere saying, “Courage, Japan! We will recover and rebuild!”

To be sure, the destructive power of the earthquake was unprecedented. The Prime Minister Kan termed it, “The most serious since the Second World War.” The rough figures of total victims, at the time of our visit, were about 13,000 confirmed dead, 9,000 still missing, and 150,000 in the temporary shelters. However ruinous the above figure may be, it pales the unfolding damage by the nuclear accident in Fukushima, because its enormity is still unknown.

The most up-lifting event in the affected region was the frequent visits by the imperial family. The Emperor and Empress, and the Crown Prince and Princess, knelt down on the floor to talk to the evacuees who were sleeping on the gym floors for two months. Another important visitor, almost as important as the imperial family, was Placido Domingo. He was the only foreign artist who did not cancel the scheduled concert tour. He was truly a huge star everywhere he went, and made the audience weep with gratitude.

The first place we went was a small United Church of Christ in Japan (Kyodan) building in Ohfunato of 100,000 people. The city lost all of the commercial and industrial sectors by the tsunami. Visited next was Rikuzen Takada, a bedroom community next to Ohfunato, a population 80,000. It was completely wiped out. Only remaining buildings were schools, used as evacuation centres. Thousands of survivors were staying in the shelters in Ohfunato sleeping on the floors of gyms and schools. Many were still missing.

The young pastor at the church was newt in the community. The church building was next to the community hall housing a few hundred people. The pastor confessed that he was a complete stranger to this kind of social ministry. He was trained to teach the Bible and preach the Gospel. However, he surprised the visitors how quickly he had gained insightful wisdom.

He pointed out how costly gifts-in-kind were. It costs money and person time to collect, transport, and distribute the goods. How often inadequate and inappropriate many of the donated goods were. He realized that cash donations cost little and were flexible and efficient. It is good for the local economy too. He also predicts enormous social problems soon created by a sudden gap between the have’s who did not encounter tsunami, and the have not’s, who lost everything. He also mentioned PTSD as a major challenge facing the community. People are traumatized.

After Ohfunato and Rikuzen-Takada, we went to Sendai, a major city in Tohoku (North East region). What a beautiful city! Tall evergreen trees line the streets, and cherry blossoms were in full bloom, a month late from Tokyo. We visited the Tohoku District Office of the Kyodan where the Christian Alliance Disaster Relief Network is located. This organization was doing excellent work in relief, counselling, and coordination of volunteers.

We also visited Sendai YMCA, which was an important centre as a temporary residence for dislocated people, a distribution centre for relief good, and coordination of volunteers. At the end of our stay in Sendai, we visited the Anglican Diocese office housed in the Cathedral. Cathedral itself is off- limit, as the building could have been damaged structurally. However it is interesting that most of the high-rise buildings were not damaged even after the 9 magnitude earthquake.

We went to see the Sendai coastal plain which was a mixture of farming, residential, and recreational areas. It was totally wiped out. Only a few houses remained standing. We met many volunteers helping people to clean up their homes. Tsunami was stopped by the highway, which boarders the costal area and the city centre. Many damaged cars were piled up at the foot of the highway. We were told that many drivers were caught by walls of waters and drowned or suffocated. It was also a recreational areas for the city people with beaches and parks, eateries and stores. Parks were now used to dump the debris.

It will take the whole of this year to clean up. It will take more to rehabilitate displaced and traumatized people, and it will take decades to rebuild Tohoku (North East). It is estimated that the estimated cost will go over $50 billion. The cost of the accident at the nuclear power station is unknown, because it is still unfolding disaster (probably a few more billions.) But Japan will recover. Spirit is strong. Solidarity of the global community is firm.

JAPAN: My Adolescent years, 1945 – 1950

ADOLESCENCE:  Japan,  1945 – 1950 (On the right, me at the age 18)

 

WHY I HAVE NOT WRITTEN ABOUT MY ADOLESCENCE FOR A SUCH LONG TIME.

I still don’t understand why I have taken so long to start writing about my adolescent years. I don’t think I had an unhappy adolescence. Maybe it is because of the fact that I was not a serious student in highschool and seminary. I was too busy with friends, later increasingly with girls friends. I ended up marrying one of them and divorcing her after 25 years. In retrospect, it is a story of a normal adolescence, but it took many years to accept that I was normal. I wonder if memories of those years are too guilt-ridden. I can not decide. However, when I went to my first and last class reunion of the seminary in June, 2010, one man commented of my student years, “You always seemed to be enjoying life.” I guess I did O.K. I should not feel guilty. After all, I did O.K. with my life. I was happy and must have looked so.

TIME TO BE HUNGRY

Five years after the Second World War, which Japanese prefer to call the War in the Pacific, were the years of dire poverty and hunger. Many people in Tokyo lived in shacks, wearing rags, and were always hungry. I remember feeling very cold and very hot in the summer. In winter, we warmed ourselves burning broken or half burned furniture. We cooked with that fire too. When it was unbearably hot, we climbed to the bell tower of the church and cooled ourselves in the breeze. It was windy on the tower which stood on top of five story building. !3 families lived in the half-burned out hollow shell of a concrete building that was my father’s church. We still worshipped in that building. It became slightly better when American soldiers began “GI Gospel Hour” in my father’s church. The chaplains, who must have been mainly Evangelicals. The U.S. Army cleaned the building, wired it, and brought in wood stoves for heating. They met every Saturday. That was my first encounter of the spoken English.

We were hungry all the time. Food was still rationed, but was never enough. Everybody survived buying food in the black market. One honest judge was reported to have starved to death because he refused to have anything to do with black market. It was touted as a stpry of the model citizen in the news papers. It was rather strange that one has to starve to death if one has to be a model citizen.  Because people were not used to question the system, it was a moral dilemma for honest citizens.  Food shortage was caused by the break down of infratructure and distribution system, not the shortage as such. Farmers were reluctant to sell their produce to the official food distribution system, because the orice the official price was unreasonably low.  the authorities had to tolerate the second tire market.  Food actually was plentiful.  A 5 minutes walk from Yurakucho station to Ginza church was lined with people selling food, bags of peanuts, boiled eggs, dried sweet potato, etc. They are all illegal black market but there was no visible law enforcement.  Everytime I found a ten yen coin in my pocket, I bought a bag of peanuts, a thirty yen, I ate a bowl of Ramen. Most of the venders were veterans, wearing torn army uniforms.  There was so few employment in industries.  Women on the streets who had nothing else to sell but themselves, in many cases to American G.I.’s.

In 1950, everything began to change drastically. The Korean War broke out, and industries suddenly perked up. Japan became the production and supply depot for the war. Anybody with grade nine education could find employment.  I learned I my early age that wars were good for economy, especially in the neighbourhood.

CASH POOR BUT RICH

My family was always short of cash but I never thought we were poor. We always had cash-flow problem not because of small income. After all, my dad was a minister of one of the biggest church in Japan. He must have been receiving a not-so-bad salary. We felt poor because my parents were lousy managers of finance. Basically they really didn’t care too much about money. They must have thought money was there anytime we need it.  We ate sufficiently, and I was under the impression that we always paid the bills. My mother always fed other people at our table, because the manse was always full of people. My parents spent carelessly and gave away money.  When they ran out of money, they borrowed. My father never hesitated to help people. And people never hesitated to give or lend money to him. When my father suddenly died in 1956, we were horrified to find how much debt he left behind. It was all forgiven before his funeral. They knew he went into debt helping other people. When we had to leave the manse and had to find a house to live in after his death, my father’s friends launched a huge fund raiser to pay for the down payment of the house. So that’s how we bought a house. The income from the rent of that house supplemented my mother’s retirement in a nursing home in Canada until she died in 2003.

I had a glimpse of how my parents raised funds at the time of need. Once I was selected to join the World Council of Churches program for youth, a work camp in the Island of Mindanao in the Philippines. I think it was in 1955. I was never worried how my portion of travel expense for would be paid. I grew up thinking that money would come around somehow. One day before the trip, my mother took me to a home of a member of my Dad’s church. It was not unusual for my parent to take their kid along for pastoral visitation. My Mom did quite a bit of visitation too. We had a nice visit with tea and lovely conversation. However, before we left, the woman of the household gave me an envelope without any comment nor explanation. There was enough money to pay for the trip. It was all pre-arranged. It was done with dignity, as though it was a normal occurance.

There were two things that made me feel a little bit humiliated. I never had sufficient pocket money: maybe nobody does. When I went out into town with friends, girl friends included, somehow I was always with people who were willing to pay. Another thing I felt slightly sad about was clothes. For a few years after the second world war, I didn’t had change of clothes. I felt ashamed about how I looked; shabby and probably a little smelly. I was always cold for not enough warm clothes on my back. It was a miserable thing for a teenager who was gradually becoming self-conscious. I hated to look shabby. The situation became better when we began to receive American second-hand clothing from my parents’ friends in the states. My mother was proud of her skills in sewing, and always willing to fix oversized clothes to fit me. My sisters hated wearing my mother’s work, but I didn’t care. The sisters didn’t think Mom was good in sewing. But I thought I looked O.K.   However, all in all, those were minor problems. I never felt I had unhappy adolescent years. I felt loved and was a happy boy.

FRIENDS

My social life was always in the church, except once. People came to church in droves during those days. When the war ended, the church became suddenly a place overflowing with people, particularly young people. They just hung around in the church building all the time. I was never conscious about it, but the church must have been open, unlocked, all the time. People came in and out any hours of day and night. The manse was in the church building. It was an apartment built within the church. Friends came to our home just to hung around. Perhaps that was the reason I didn’t feel deprived, being rich in friends but cash poor. I will come back and speak about my friends, but I should mention about this one and only time experience of social life outside of the church. Like any teenage boy, I was very conscious of girls. But relationship with the boys was more important until I met this girl. Her name was Reiko Kezuka.

REIKO

It was a girl who launched me into the one-time social life outside of the church. And it was my first romance, such as it was. It happened like this: My father started English language classes in the church soon after the war, because there was so much demand to learn English. I never paid any attention to those non-church people who came to the classes. They were not my friends. So I didn’t pay too much attention to those people who stood around the piano when I was practising. We didn’t have a piano in our home, so I used the one in the church hall to practice. Before Christmas one year, my last year of high school, a girl gave me a little package. That was not unusual. People gave each other gifts before Christmas in the church often, because Christmas was not observed in most of the Japanese homes. So they did it at the church. It was a Christian celebration in a non-Christian country. I got presents from lots of people because I was a family of the minister. In the package was a small notebook, which was the kind people would keep in the pocket to write ‘thing to do’. In it was a hand-written poem.

I was not a lover of literature, neither was I much interested in poetry. So, reading the notebook, I didn’t understand what the girl was saying. It was all about flowers and insects. I had no idea what she meant in subtlety with full of nuances. So this dim-wit casually showed it to a friend, who said right away, “Oh my god. Don’t you know she is in love with you?” Oh my God, indeed. However, I could not quite identify which of the young women who stood around the piano did this. But one day one of them gave me a bouquet of pink sweet peas. So that was the one. She was in the grade eleven and was always with a group of high school girls from the volley-ball team of a commerce school. She was not what you might term ‘beautiful’, but was an attractive and healthy looking sporty type of a person. She was a daughter of the owner of a shop specializing model aeroplanes in Ginza. Ginza still is a high price shopping area of Tokyo. It was a shop for people who spent big money on model aeroplanes. It had mainly American clientele, so I guess she needed to learn conversational English to help in the shop. I got to know her name, Reiko Kezuka.

We went out for maybe a year, more or less. In the beginning she always came with a bunch of girls, as I said before. It was not unusual for people to hang around in the church and in the manse. We did the usual things for teenagers, going for a walk in Ginza, had coffee, window shopping, etc. Then she started to come by herself, always to our place to my room. Once she invited me to come to her school after their volley ball practice to go for coffee in town. Again, I remember being surprised how much pocket money ordinary kids of my age had. I never paid for anything, movies, restaurants, etc. I might have been attracted to her, but I can not say I was crazy with her.

By then I began to realize that there was an invisible barrier between my friends in the church and the ones outside of the church. Frankly speaking, ordinary kids outside seemed to me to be so dumb. In the church, my friends and I were discussing issues, and outside gossiping. No wonder I was never comfortable with my peers at high school either, especially when they were giggling in dirty talks. I could not stand it. They sounded so below my dignity and stupid. I was interested in opposite sex just the same but differently. My high school is known even today as an elite school, but even then I thought those kids in my school seemed to be so dumb. I now realized the nature of Christian churches in Japan. The church in Japan is an institution for the elite and is generally speaking puritanical.

Just before I started the Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, Reiko was picked to be a member of Japan’s first women’s professional baseball league, and she invited me to visit her at the Spring training camp. It was in a warm Pacific coastal region near my birth place of Numazu. I watch the training for a few hours, and was totally bored. She took a room in a hotel for me, and came to see me. I had no idea what I was expected to do. It was a beautiful time of the year, flowers blooming, ocean was blue, a perfect time for romance. But we sat and just talked. How naive could I get! She didn’t insist. I broke up with her soon after, and she cried. A strange thing was: just before I came to Canada, by then I was already married to Chieko, she wrote to me. She was also married and lived in the western coastal region by Japan Sea. I didn’t understand what she wanted. So I ignored it and forgot about it.

FRIENDS IN THE CHURCH

There were three boys close to me throughout my teen years. We were so close that other church people called us “three crows – Sanba Garasu.” I think the term came from a legend of three young samurais, which extolled the virtues of friendship. Eiji Ooshima was a son of a diplomat, went to the elite Tokyo University and became a university professor in Physics. Masao Fukai was raised by a single Mom, known as a famous geisha madam in Ginza. Nobody gossiped about his mother nor his origin in the church. Only the Japanese would know that Geisha is a special class, cultured and respected. We certainly didn’t care nor question about his background. He also went to an ellite Keio University and became an editor of a political magazine. We were confirmed together.

They came often to the church after school just to hung around in dusty rooms of the concrete church building. Often we would just sat and chat. We organized the boys and girls who came to the church, summer retreats, picnics, come springtime hikes in the green hills in the country. We edited the journal for the kids in the church and compiled and printed camp song books. We organized Christmas Carols visiting church members at their homes, and created a Junior Choir. We were busy. We thought we organized the whole church. We attended the AGM, and joined the discussion about the budget. We did all this before we went to university. In retrospect, we were extraordinary group of teen age boys. I am also surprised that the adults let us do all this.

At the time we were preparing to go to the university, “Three Crows” gradually disintegrated. I began to feel the distance from two others; was a more accurate way of to describe the dissolution.

I can not quite pin-point the reason for this. Ooshima started to go out with my sister, Taeko, could be one of the reasons. I was not jealous, but I didn’t like to see the relationship btween my best friend and my sister. It was too close to comfort. Also, I started to hung around with another group of boys who all came from Keio University as Fukai. To me they were much more fun.

It is this group who still keep in touch with me even after fifty odd years, I lived almost entirely outside of Japan, Canada, Lesotho, and Switzerland, and most of them stayed in Japan; with a few exception of them who had a successful lives overseas, in New York, London, Switzerland (he still lives there.), and Eastern Europe. Tokyo University is known as an institution that produces the elite academics and government bureaucrats, while Keio produced the elite business class. Keio crowd is the one who still get together whenever I go to Japan.

The closest friends among the Keio crowd were three, or four if you include me. The leader of the group was Atsuo Ishiwara. He worked his entire life for the Mitsui Trading Company, no relation of mine, in Asia and in Eastern Europe. He was smart, knew he was smart and behaved like one. He became friends with an American businessman, attended his Bible class and started to attend my father’s church, Ginza. He brought his best friends at the Keio University to church, Takehiko Nozaki and Yasutake Nambu. I joined the group and four of us stayed life time friends. Nozaki became a banker, and when he retired he was a branch manager of one of the most important Mitsubishi Bank in Down Town Tokyo. Nambu joined me at the Seminary and became a minister of the United Church of Christ in Japan. He went to the Union Theological Seminary in New York to do his doctrate. We got together and discussed theology, and often listened to Ishiwara’s lament about girls. Ishiwara was always in love, but never succeeded taking any of them out. It is strange that any of them married the girl who was in the group, except me. They all married in a traditional way, arranged marriage. Strange that I am the only one who failed in marriage.

During the first year of the university, one more joined in a tight circle of friendship. He is Reiji Yuminoke, who turned out to be my closest friend. However, until Yuminoke (we called him Noke) four of us were cash poor. We called ourselves “Waterman’s Club.” When we felt the need for a change of scene, we went out and went in any coffee house, chatted a long time sipping water without ordering anything. We normally didn’t have money for coffee. After a while, enough chatting done, we went out. So the name, Waterman’s Club. But Noke was a boy who was no short of pocket money. No more waterman’s club. He always paid. No question was ever asked about this rather unfair arrangement.

It came to be like this: Noke needed help in his academic work. So we often stayed at his home to help him, in writing papers and in preparing for exams. Ishiwara was a literary type, so he helped in Literature. Nambu was a philosopher, I did English, and Nozaki French and the rest. We had good times at his home. Besides, Noke’s mother was a good cook. We ate well and had a whale of good time. Noke’s father owned a small book binding business, not a millionaire but had more money than any of our family. It is the best memory of my youth. We talked about everything. Often we talked about Ishiwara’s latest love, rather we listened to him lament; he was always in love. Poor fellow. I always had a girl friend – different one every time. All of them knew them but never spoke about them. Odd!

We talked mainly about Theology, and girls. We planned outings, retreats, parties, special worship services, choir. We published regular papers for our age groups. We attended the AGM for the congregation. We thought we ran the church. In retrospect, it is amazing that the elders of the church let us do all this.

Girls were all from Christian girls’ schools. They were required by the schools to attend the church. They were from the Methodist school (Aoyamagakuin), the Disciples, (Seigakuin), the Anglican (Rikkyo), the Canadian Methodist – later United (Eiwa), the Quakers (Friends), you name the church, we had them. Another odd thing about my friends at the church, the only ones I made friends were at the church, is the fact that girls came from Christian schools, and boys were not. Even I went to public schools all through teenage years. Boys I made friends with were mainly from Keio, a secular ivy league elite school.

Another odd thing about the circle of friends at Ginza Church was the fact that, though we were very close and hang around together all the time, none of them married each other, except me. I guess there was a kind of ‘brother-sister’ psychology working. They were so close that after sixty odd years, they still get together regularly, a few times a year, for re-union for dinner in expensive restaurants, with former Sunday School teachers as honoured guests. I don’t go because of distance, except twice when I just happened to be in Japan.

After the university, Nambu went to my alma mater, Tokyo Union Theological Seminary and became an ordained minister. Ishiwara was hired by the Mitsui Trading Co., and spent most of his life oversea, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, etc. Nozaki became a banker and became a branch manager of one of the most prestigious branch of the Mitsubishi Bank in Ginza. Noke succeeded his father’s book binding business and became the most successful business man of the group in terms of financial gains. He continued to treat me every time he had a chance, allowing me to use his house in Hawaii, took us to holiday resorts, and taking us to expensive restaurants..

This pattern of the circle of friends at Ginza Church continued until I left Japan for Canada in 1957. By then I was married to one of the girls from Seigauin (The Disciples school), Chieko Fukushima. She was my first wife.

The triple disaster in Japan – March 11, 2011

EARTHQUAKE DID NOT KILL

We can cope with natural disasters to some extent, but we can not resolve the problems we create if we don’t know what we are doing.  We will be able to live with nature if we connect with respect, but we can not solve the problems we create if we don’t exactly know what we have created.  This is why the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power station is more difficult than the earthquake and the tsunami.

When I left Japan on May 15, newspapers reported that there were still close to 150,000 people staying in the temporary evacuation shelters, school gyms and community centres, and other public space.  The figure for the confirmed dead persons was about 14,000 and still missing, after two months, probably all dead in the seas, was about 9,000.  Aside from 4 persons died in the damaged nuclear power plant, most of the deaths occurred due to the tsunami, not by the earthquake itself.  I am saying this because on March 11th, 2011, the earthquake itself hardly killed people, but the tsunami did.  This is a different story from Haiti where most of the deaths happened because of the earthquake.

I started out with the above sentence because what impressed me most as the train went into the triple disaster affected region was the absence of destroyed houses and buildings from the view from the train window.   I wondered where the scenes I used to seeing in Haiti and New Zealand were.  Even in Sendai, which was the closest population centre to the epi-centre of 3/11 earthquake, I didn’t see collapsed buildings except sheets of blue plastic tarpaulin covering houses that lost some ceramic slates from the roofs.

 After the visit of the affected region, the ecumenical delegation met in a conference room of the Tokyo Christian Centre on the fourth floor for debriefing.  They told me that at 2 P.M. when the quake struck, they were in a meeting.  When the magnitude 5 quake struck Tokyo, the building shook so hard that people had hard time climbing down the stairs to the ground level to evacuate.  But when we met in the same room and were told what happened in the same room, I looked around and saw no crack on the wall neither did I see any broken window pane.  My sister was in the second floor of a supermarket in Tokyo.  The building shook so violently that she had to sit down on the floor until it stopped.  When I went there to shop two months later, the story was the same.  I didn’t see any cracked wall nor broken window.

Buildings and houses in Japan were earthquake proof.  The building code must be very strict.  So the primary disaster, earthquake, destroyed hardly anything, neither killed anyone.  Japan was prepared.  The death and destruction, the secondary disaster, tsunami, could have been far less if it was as estimated 8 metres high wall of waters, max.  Dikes were prepared for that height, and the warning system was in place.  They did not expect 15 metres high tsunami.  There was an extensive tsunami warning.  Deaths occurred because more than 40 % of people thought it was not so imminent.  So they continued cleaning the mess in the houses created by the earthquake which came 40 minutes to 1 hour earlier.  School children knew where to go, the third floor, when the tsunami warning sounded.  All in all, they were even prepared for tsunami, except the estimate was a few metres short.

The only remaining challenge is the nuclear disaster, the third.  It became clear that neither the industry nor the government knew what they were doing.  Only two days before I left Japan, which was a month and two days after the earthquake, did they find out that at the first reactor in the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Station, the fuel core had melted down, and most of the water poured into, about 10,000 tons, to cool the disabled reactor disappeared.  They were not sure where it went, probably seeped into the ground.  That meant the containment vessel must have cracked with the earthquake.  All that radiation contaminated water went, but they still didn’t know where it went.  “Scary stuff!” is an almost unprecedented understatement.

On the day of the second month of the disaster, May 11, the Asahi Shinbun was reporting that of 54 nuclear reactors, 42 have shut down, including the five at the Fukushima Dai-ichi and a few more at the Hama Oka station.  The government ordered it to shut down for extensive anti-tsunami measures renovation/construction.  The nuclear power in Japan supplies close to 30 % of the current energy requirement, of which 10% will shut down for extensive inspection and complete closure like Fukushima.  Popular opinion is moving more and more towards renewable energy, and eventual weaning from nuclear.  The Prime Minister Kan began speaking about the nuclear option as a stop gap measure before the renewable energy option takes over.  This is a complete reversal of the energy policy of the current government party in power.  All this is saying to me that neither the industry nor the government have not known what they were in for when they opted for the nuclear power when it earnestly started to develop it.  All this poses an enormous challenge to the nuclear industry in the world.

The concept of every little car with a small motor, instead of one powerful locomotive pulling the whole train was a Japanese invention.  It began the world wide trend of adopting super speed trains, such as TGV in Europe or “Bullet Train” – “Shinkansen” is Japan.  Many small things collectively are more powerful than one big and powerful thing was a Japanese idea.  Why then it opted for the notion of the big is better than many small things?

Earthquake as such did not kill, because of preparedness.  Even the resultant tsunami can be stopped if the dikes were a few metres higher.  But the nuclear power is more troublesome, because nobody knows what exactly it led us into.

To love another person is to see the face of God

TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD

I have been inundated by phone calls and email asking me about the safety of my family in Japan since the news of earthquakes in Japan broke on Friday last week, March 11, 2011.  It is a truly gratifying experience to live in a not-so-big community like Lethbridge.  People do care. They are concerned about the disasters and respond  very generously to appeals to help the victims be it Haiti, New Zealand, or Japan.  I even heard a person angrily denouncing the countries and governments not caring enough about the courageous rebels in Libya, who are increasingly looking like they are about to be brutally overrun by the planes and guns of Colonel Ghadafi.

However, whenever some people express their concerns about what is happening overseas, inevitably there are others who say things like, “Charity begins at home.”  They sound as though our homes, our community, and our country come first, and the problems overseas are secondary.  Of course, poverty and homelessness are important issues which should be on top of our agenda.  But I happened to believe that both are not mutually exclusive.  One exclusive of the other is not an authentic charity.  Person who claims to be concerned about hunger in Africa but is a horrible neighbour is a liar.  Likewise, if someone says he cares less about HIV/AIDS crisis overseas because he is too busy fighting crimes at home is a fake.  Respect for one must be respect for everyone.

It reminds me of the famous line by Victor Hugo in Les Miserable, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  

CANADA: I lived on the right side of the street, 1988 – 1990

I LIVED ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE STREET, JUST.
What a difference a street makes to your social standing!  If you live on one side of the street, you are in.  But on the other side, out.

I lived on Gifford Street three doors north of Gerard in Toronto.  When asked where I lived, I always said, “Cabbage Town.” It was a good name; where many CBC types lived, including the former Governor General before she was appointed to that position.  It was not a lie but the one hundred year old former nurses’ residence was not yet gentrified and looked a bit dilapidated to be called “Cabbage Town.”

When I first came to Toronto in 1968, I did a study of life in Cabbage Town in a program known as the Canadian Urban Training for downtown church workers.  At the time, it was known for decaying old brick houses where people who could not afford to move to the suburbs remained. They lived in horrible conditions.  There was a new housing development on the South of Gerard Street, which became known as Regent Park, Toronto’s oldest public housing development.  When I came back in 1987 from overseas and looked for a place to live, I was surprised to find the old Cabbage Town had become mostly gentrified with sand blasted beautifully restored Victorian houses.  It was now known as the place where up and coming people lived.  Luck had it that I found an apartment in a still not yet renovated brick building, which was built as the nurses’ residence for the first Toronto General Hospital.   So we lived in Cabbage Town, not quite but sort of.   But we didn’t take a short cut through Regent Park.

I cycled to work to St. Clair Avenue East at Yonge Street.  The best way to avoid climbing the steep hill between Bloor and St. Clair was going through Rosedale where Toronto’s old monies lived.  Commuting between a hip Cabbage Town through palatial houses in Rosedale to Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue, where Prof. Northrop Fry used to live, on a bicycle was a source of my great satisfaction.  Hip and politically correct.  Vanity of vanities!

I loved it.  There were many good eateries, fashionable shops, organic groceries, stores for ethnic foods and goods too.  They served people on both sides of the street.  Depending on how you dress or look, you get treatments accordingly.   One time in early summer we had a brisk walk in the neighbourhood and stopped for a drink at a Bistro with a French name.  We were thirsty.  It was a mid-afternoon, and there was nobody in the establishment.  We were told that all seats were reserved.  At 3:30 p.m?  In 1989!  In Toronto!  We should have gone home to change.  Maybe my partner should have gone in alone first.  She is white.  

In winter, it was too cold to cycle.  So I took the famous red rocket, the street car, to work.  When I was on time for work, just before 9 in the morning, my fellow passengers were mostly Cabbage Town types with a sprinkle of those on the way to Bay Street.  Well dressed or expensively casual hip.  Most of them were reading the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star, or even the New York Times, sipping Second Cup coffee.  On occasion, I had to go to the office early like before 7 a.m.  Interestingly, there weren’t many white faces in the street car.  They wore boots and sneakers, some of them wearing clothes with yesterday’s white-wash dust on the back.  If they read newspapers, they read the Toronto Sun.

One hot steamy summer evening, the police were knocking every door asking questions in our neighbourhood.  They asked us if we heard or saw anything unusual in the night before.  They didn’t tell us why they were doing this.  We found next morning that there was a murder in a house on the corner of Gerard and Gifford,  on the North side of Gerard – the Cabbage Town side.  The headline was “A Murder in Regent Park.”  But it was not strictly correct.  The house where it happened was technically on the South end of Cabbage Town.

Interestingly, on the next day it became “A Murder in Cabbage Town”.  It so turned out that the victim was a black man, therefore initially he had lived in Regent Park, of course.  What was discovered as the police investigation progressed, it was that he was a high-class hair-dresser working in a fashionable beauty salon in downtown.  Furthermore he had many rich gay lovers.  It was a case of the lovers’ quarrel gone wrong.  So he had to live in Cabbage Town.  He did not move from Regent Park to Cabbage Town after he died.  Though he did not move geographically, his status moved from one side of the street to another.

CADANA: My name is George, the cat, 2010

My name is George.  

I am a cat.  I live with the staff of a female and a male humans who serve me food and clean the toilet.  In return, I do my best to help them keep their sanity. In this way, they save the cost of  an analyst.  They require a lot of work; because they live in an insane world of greed and vanity, gizmo and useless junk.  Reading the sad stories of my species on this newspaper every week, I felt compelled to write this letter.  

Human minds are so barbaric and primitive that to convince them to change their behaviors may be hopeless.  But I don’t give up.  I am making a male staff person transcribe what I need to say.  He, though basically a dimwit, seems to understand a little bit of our language.

Some humans throughout their history have apparently known that the cat family of the life forms have a far superior inner quality.  One of their holy books, I believe it is called the Revelation, compared their god-on-earth figure to a lion.  Lion is a cat.  What I don’t understand is: why did they choose the big predator among our species?  Size and violence are not the highest attributes of life forms; wisdom is.  We, the cats, just look at humans with contempt and disdain without word to make them realize of their idiotic tendency to resort to violence and self-destruction.  

We endure their cruelty to show them of their evil ways.  A story has it that one of their holy men died on a cross just to show humans of their evil nature and the way to salvation?  Didn’t another holy man gave up titles and wealth to show how to achieve Nirvana?  But humans don’t get it, do they?  They still think that power and violence, money and war, and other negative ways can achieve an ideal world.  I think they are doomed.  Guess, I will go with them, because I love them.

George the cat, transcribed by Tad Mitsui.

CANADA: Sexual scandals in the church, 1990 -1995

SEXUAL SCANDALS IN THE CHURCH
-Learning from two court cases in the United Church of Canada –
During the last few decades, the authority of many venerated institutions has increasingly been challenged.   No longer do people accept the dictate of the government, the police, the religious or scientific institutions without question.  The latest spell of revelations of sexual crimes and predatory behaviours by the clergy is one of the indications of this trend.  Basically I believe it is good that despite many attempts of cover-up their false images were exposed.  I have not done a sociological nor statistical study of this development.   But I can depend as a primary source on my own experience of working within the church bureaucracy during this period.

In early 1990’s, the United Church of Canada found itself preoccupied in dealing with a number of sexual harassment charges against the members of clergy.  I walked right into this turmoil as a member of a United Church bureaucracy called “Conference” or “Synode”.   I wish to begin my remarks by describing two court cases.  Then, I would like to ask ourselves three questions:  Are we looking at exceptions – a few rotten apples?   Or are we looking at an institution rotten to the core?  And lastly what have we learned and what must we do?  These two examples may sound different from what you hear and see in the media.  But they are what I witnessed personally.   They show the complexity of the issue.  

Case number one:
A woman complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission that she was sexually harassed by a minister during the course of pastoral counselling.   She also reported of the action she took to the Presbytery.  In the United Church of Canada, the Presbytery has the primary responsibility to oversee the ministry personnel.  The fact that she went to a secular authority first shows her distrust of the church process.  Upon receiving her report, the presbytery suspended him without pay not waiting for the outcome of the Human Rights Commission process.  It launched its own investigation by a committee.  Meanwhile, the respondent minister took the whole United Church to the civil court.  He complained that the Presbytery did not follow the due process prescribed by the United Church Manual.  The Manual is the United Church book of rules.  The court ruled against the church, and ordered the church to give back his job.  The church had to pay the income he lost also the cost of the court.  The judge termed what the United Church did was contrary to natural justice.  I was not involved personally in the Ontario court case, because it happened in another jurisdiction.  But a call was extended to him by a church in my jurisdiction.  Even though I did not want to see a man like him in my conference, I had no way of prevebting him to get a job in my conference by blocking the call process.   It was a court order.

 Case Number two:  
            A nude photograph of a young male minister was featured in a gay magazine centre-fold.  The secretary of the Montreal Presbytery invited him to explain himself as to how this came about.  The minister did not see how this could be an issue.   He pointed out that there was no victim.   He also insisted that the photograph was a work of art. The secretary, however, thought that such a visual image of a minister of religion would create a problem in the performance of his pastoral work.  So the presbytery, on the advice of the secretary, suspended him with pay, and required him to see a counsellor.  The presbytery offered to pay the cost of counselling.  However, he took the whole United  Church to  the Quebec Superior Court claiming that he was treated unjustly without a due process.  I was summoned by the court to represent the Montreal and Ottawa Conference of the United Church of Canada.  The conference is a supervisory body of the Presbytery.  The church argued that to be seen in such a photograph was an inappropriate behaviour for a pastor and it would affect his pastoral work negatively.  However, the case came to an abrupt end, because he lied before the judge during the discovery.  He was convicted of perjury, and the case was dismissed.  He was put on the Discontinued Service List (DSL).  In the United Church lingo, it means he was fired, and was no longer considered to be an ordained minister.  Perjury is a felony, and the United Church Manual prescribes that the minister convicted of felony will automatically be put on the DSL.

It would have been an interesting precedent, had the court reached the conclusion.  Defining what art is, would have been useful vis a vis pornography.   Also, defining what an inappropriate behaviour for a pastor could have been extremely useful.  

            Now then, here we have to ask ourselves if those cases were isolated incidents by a few rotten apples, and should be dealt with as such, case by case.  Or are they a tip of an iceberg of a much deeper and serious error in the self–understanding of the church?
    
    There are many people who defend the church by taking the fist proposition.  In other words, they think those and other offenders are rare exceptions not the norm.   I have some sympathy with that view.  For the sake of comparison,  you certainly cannot condemn the whole Armed Forces form the Russell Williams monstrosity.  I am proud to be a citizen of the country with professional and dedicated men and women in the armed forces.  Likewise, I believe that a vast majority of men and women in the church are dedicated, caring, and selfless people who are committed to the service of God and humanity.  I am proud to be a part of it.  It is totally unfair to condemn the whole body because of a few sick members.  Sick parts must be dealt with according to the rules of the church as well as by the laws of the land in a decisive manner.  But you can not condemn the whole institution because of them.

    However, I also take the view that those predatory individuals who had managed to live in the system with impunity for such a long time is a symptom of the much more profound error existed in the church itself.   I believe it is a serious sickness of the Christian church.  A Swiss theologian Emil Brunner kindly called it a “glorious but serious misunderstanding.”   He was referring to the notion of Christendom and the church’s  arrogant assumption of divine authority.   It had existed within the church since a Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the established religion of the Empire in the fourth century.  Since then, for far too long the church had assumed the divine right to determine what’s right and what’s wrong.  Only God could do such a thing according to my belief, not a human being or a human institution.  But the church had behaved as though it was a god therefore could set its own standard without checks and balances.  Hence, its custodians, the church hierarchy and the clergy class, were considered to be above the law, and often escaped a normal scrutiny by the society and the laws of the land.  The offenders were disciplined internally hidden from the eyes of the public, thus maintained a false image of an infallible institution.  Now our society is going through a paradigm shift.   Because of democratic, multi-cultural and secular nature of our society, the church no longer can pretend to possess the divine right to dictate the ethics of the whole nation.
    
It was a sign of the time when the authority of not only the church but also all established institutions is challenged.  Not only was the church embroiled in court cases, so were other institutions, like educational, legal, and medical professions.   I believe this is a good thing that the church had to be brought down from its pedestal and its authority and power questioned.

 I used to hear those scandals as gossips and in whispers, but now I was hearing them openly and with victims demanding justice.  The church was learning, and still is, even though slowly and reluctantly. The recent revelation of the abuses the First Nations children suffered in the church run residential schools brought decades of such scandalous behaviours of church personnel into the open.  This is cleansing and a good thing.  I say this because it is important to affirm that no human institution has the right to claim the exclusive divine authority.  Historically far too many people were killed for heresy and/or immorality defined by the religious institutions.  Even acts of terrorism were committed by Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, even by Buddhists, by those who assume the divine authority to dictate doctrines and ethics.  They killed innocent lives in the name of Allah or God.   Not to mention the two millennia of persecution of the Jews by the church, culminating in the holocaust.  They all claimed the exclusive knowledge of the divine will.  This is a totally unacceptable apostasy.

Another important lesson the church has to learn is to distinguish a professional relationship from a romantic relationship.  A romantic relationship is beautiful and is to be celebrated when two equal partners enter into such relationship.  On the other hand, relationships based on one partner exercising power over the other in the name of love are not acceptable.  No longer can a member of the clergy take advantage of his or her position over parishioners.  We must all be equal.  Sexual relationship between two unequal partners is exploitation of one by another, and should be proscribed.  Consent between unequal partners even between adults is not a genuine consent.

This is why sex with a minor by an adult is a statutory rape.  Likewise, sexual relations between professors/students, doctors/patients, lawyers/clients, and ministers/parishioners should all be prohibited.  My brother-in-law, who worked for the Manitoba Auto-insurance – AUTOPAC, told me that the sexual relationship between an adjuster and a claimant will result in immediate dismissal of the adjuster.  The church has to learn from other disciplines, because some of them are ahead of the church in this.  Many people lament the decline of the status of the good old patriarchy figure, and blame this for the decline of public morality.   But I happened to believe that in order to re-establish a new order in a secular, democratic and multi-cultural society, the old power structure which was based on erroneous assumption of authority, must be brought down.  The church, or any institution, must give up a claim to the exclusive and/or divine rights.  No minister, priest, imam, or ayatola is god.  All believers of religion must accept that the only the Supreme Being has the right to determine the fate of the other, not human.

Communion 3: Food is the primary blessing

PRIMARY BLESSING: Food and Drink
Exodus 16 : 2-4,13-20, and John 2:1 – 3, 7-11

Christmas is coming.  It’s time when everybody thinks about food.  Bake cookies, fruit cakes, maybe a time to start looking for a recipe for a different kind of stuffing.  I love eating.  I think that food and drink are the signs that God truly loves us.  There is a good reason for the Christian Church’s most important ritual, Communion,  involves eating and drinking.  

I will tell you a story of a first communion.  My father grew up in a Buddhist home in the beginning of the twentieth century in Japan.  He became a Christian through an American woman who came to his village, and started a Sunday School.  My father’s parents heard a rumour that this missionary could deal with any rambunctious and uncontrollable teenage boy.  My dad apparently was one.  So he was sent to Sunday School.   Anyhow, he liked the Sunday School, especially the singing.  He eventually became a Christian to the consternation of his parents.  They wanted the American woman to fix their son, not to make him a Christian.  One day, as my father told me, the missionary announced that a minister would come to baptise them and celebrate the most important dinner for the Christians.  So the congregation was quite excited about it, and looked forward to the first visit of an ordained minister, and a special dinner.  That day came but the minister was delayed. The congregation came hungry expecting a big feast.  So they decided to have the dinner without the minister anyway.  They didn’t have bread and wine.  So they thought that sake and sushi would do.  They had a good time feasting.  By the time the minister finally arrived, he found a very happy and noisy congregation indeed.  He was a Methodist minister who believed in total abstention from alcohol, so he was very annoyed.  They had to wait until they became sober before they were baptized, and observed the first communion with bread and wine.

I think that this story tells us something about a problem of the communion service of our church today.  As you know, another name for communion is  “Eucharist.”   It means thanksgiving.   We celebrate the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ by having a symbolic dinner together.  It is meant to be a joyful occasion.   The communion was a congregational dinner in the early church, like the one we had a month ago.  When it became a ritual in the established church by the Roman Imperial authority, we lost that sense of joy and became a solemn formality.  I don’t know how we can recover that sense of gratitude and joy in our communion.

Humans always marked special occasions by eating together.   We eat not only to celebrate happy occasions but also to celebrate the loving community of supportive people at  not-so-happy-occasions but significant ones like funerals.   We do this because food and drink always bring people together.  A loving community always share a joy of life.  There is a good reason why the Gospel tells us of the miracle at the wedding in Cana as the first act that Jesus performed in his ministry.  Jesus providing wine for a party!  God blesses a joyful occasion with food and rink.
                                  
Food used to be a huge source of happiness before.  It is too bad that we don’t appreciate food as much now.  Our society is so affluent that it’s not too much of a struggle to put food on the table.   If anything we eat and drink too much.  We have forgotten that food was a real blessing and a source of great happiness.  We live in a society where the grace before meal became just a formality and does not have as much meaning as it used to.  Abundance diminished pleasure of God’s blessing.  Greed and gluttony spoiled blessing of God.  All of us have weight problems and less appreciation of food.  Our affluence made food a curse.  What a great pity!

There is an expression in Japanese language, “Kappuku ga iidesune.”  It more or less means: I see you got fat. You must be successful.  Congratulations!   Food used to be scarce and precious.    People could not afford to eat so much to be fat.  So not only in Japan but also in many countries, being overweight meant affluence and success.  You ought to be congratulated.

When people of Israel were freed from slavery, they had to wander in a desert for many years in search of land to settle down.  There was not much food in a desert.  They became hungry, and complained to Moses, “When we were slaves, we were not free, but we ate meat.  Now we are free but we are starving to death.”  So, as the story goes, God provided food.  God sent down quails for meat and some stuff that looked like marshmallow for starch and sugar.  They were told not to collect too much, only what they needed.  But some of them got greedy and stocked up for next day.  But they found surplus food rotten and smelly next day, full of worms.  Now today in Canada, food is plentiful and cheap.  30% of food is thrown out.  We became greedy and glutenous just like the people of Israel in the desert.  Overweight is now a major health hazzard.  Food is supposed to be a blessing.  But greed made us glutenous, and food has become a major health issue.  This is how we turned the blessing into a curse.  There is an important lesson to be learned from the Book of Exodus.

Doctors advise that three items to be avoided if you want to stay healthy: fat, salt, and sugar.  But they are very important substance that our bodies require.  Sugar is an easily digestible source of energy, fat is a way to store carbo-hydrate in time of need, and salt is needed to retain water in our bodies when engaging in a physical activity.  We need them and thank goodness we like them.  But now that food is easily accessible but we do not move our bodies as much, those essential ingredients became poisons that make us sick.  They are still the essential requirements if we take them according to the need.   What God told Moses was a lesson against greed and gluttony not against food.  We can recover the sense of blessing of food, when we take the experience of the Israelites in the desert seriously.

There is a good reason why the church’s most important ritual – communion involves food and drink.  As we partake of it, we must remember that food is a primary sign of God’s love.  Let us drink and eat and be merry with our loved ones during the festive season and be grateful.  As we partake the communion, let us remember to enjoy God’s blessing.  And let us not turn it into a curse.  

Communion is Sharing

 COMMUNION IS SHARING John 6: 1-14, Acts 6:1-6

I am warning you this right off the bat : Some of you are hearing this sermon for the second time.  It’s not that I am getting lazy in my old age.  I am doing this because this is the first of the trilogy about communion I am planing.  I want us to think about the communion in sequence.   When you look up the Oxford Dictionary, the word “Communion” is defined as “sharing in a very deep level.”    So, this morning we will think about the communion as sharing.  In November I will touch on the dinner table as a community builder, and in December we will celebrate the “Pleasure of Eating.”

The scriptures read this morning,  the Corinthians and the Acts are both touching on the difficulty of sharing in the early Christian Church.  You may know this: In the early Christian church the worship services always began by eating together.  It was a proper dinner.  An apostle began the dinner by breaking bread and sharing the cup in memory of Christ, according to his command.   This was the harbinger of the communion service, which today is only a symbolic act.  However, it looks like in some cities particularly in Corinth, there was a problem.  The poor people, the widows and those who were not Jews were often discriminated against.  When they came to the table often there was no more bread and wine left while some others were already drunk because they had too much.  This is why the apostles selected  some good people as elders to make sure that everybody had a share of food and drink.  That was the beginning of the office of “Elders” in the church.

This reminds me of the communion services in African.  In a country called Lesotho, I taught at an university for eight years.  But, I was called upon to conduct the communion service sometimes.   At the communion elders surrounded me like body-guards.  Then I was shocked to see them pushing some people away.  Apparently they grabbed too much bread, or drank too much wine from a common cup.  I realized how they were hungry.  In a country like Canada where the major problem is eating too much, it is hard to understand this.  But in a poor country, where people are hungry all the time, even a bit of bread and a sip of wine is precious.  They never had enough food.  So, like in the early church, elders’ job was to keep the order and to make sure that everybody had bread and wine at the Lord’s Table.

Today, we are all concerned about energy.  But our attempt to reduce our  dependancy on oil  had caused hunger and starvation in the poorer parts of the world.  When industries discovered that corn can produce alternative fuel to run a car, price of corn shot up.  Many poor people in the countries where corn is a staple food could not afford it anymore.  So, many people became hungry and rioted.  The rich world is worried about sources of fuel to run a car, but the poor people are worried about food.  It’s such an unequal world.

It is said that today one billion people are hungry and malnourished.  In the meantime, here in North America, a major health problem comes from eating too much.   Health problems caused by over-weight are replacing cancer and heart diseases as the major causes of death.  I’m told that a half of our children are over weight and a fifth of them are obese, while in the rest of the world thousands of people die everyday  from diseases caused by malnutrition.  Food is killing us while lack of it is killing in the rest of the world.  Sharing food is a big challenge today.

Many of us think that a massive food aid is the answer.  Just send them food, you say.   The price of our agricultural products will go up and the farmers will benefit.  But I don’t think that will work.  For one thing, who is going to pay for it.  The government, our tax?  And secondly, food aid often destroys food producers in the receiving countries.  It was cheap rice from South Carolina destroyed once thriving rice production in Haiti in the last century.  I saw the same thing happened many times in Africa.  When I went to Lesotho, Africa in 1968, there were some old farmers who still remembered the days when there was a movement among Africans to “Send food to save hungry English people.”  It was after the second world war when the whole Europe was starving.  What made Africa food aid receiving continent afterwards?  A good question.  There is a lot of debate about this but I believe that commercialization of agriculture in a global scale deprived of the small farmers’ dignity as food producers and made them beggars.  Cheap food from industrialized world drove them out of the market.

The lesson from the Gospel according to John teaches us something important in this context.  When Jesus asked if there was food for many peopel, Andrew came up to tell Jesus, “Here is a boy who has 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish.”  This nameless boy probably gave up food for the family dinner and offered all he had.  That’s how the miracle of the feeding of five thousand happened, through a willingness of one boy to share all he had.  Even if you don’t believe in a miracle, there is still an important message.  That is: when you fight for food, there is never enough of it.  But when you share it, there is enough.

The answer to the problem of hunger is not food-aid.  It is in giving back the dignity of growing their own food.  Give farmers everywhere farm credit.  You have no idea that in the poorer part of the world, farmers have no crop insurance nor farm credit our farmers take for granted.  So a few years of drought do not kill our farmers, but in Africa even one drought is a total disaster and many people starve.   Then, how come our foreign aid program does not include farm credit?  I know why.  We rather keep producing food we can not possibly consume, and give away the surplus.  There is no way we will allow our government to give financial incentive to the farmers of other countries.  Agriculture is a very competitive market.  We don’t want more competitors.   We rather destroy other food  producers, and make them customers of our farm products, and recipients of our food aid.  Production is a source of dignity.  We really don’t want to share such a precious right.  Sharing all we have is far too much of sacrifice.

When I first went to Lesotho, everywhere I went I was surrounded by beggars.  I hated it.  One day, a school teacher who taught me the language told me something I didn’t know.  He said, “We have a sharing society.  If you have something others don’t have, you will share it.  That’s why every mother teaches her children to leave a tiny portion of dinner for a hungry stranger who may knock on the door anytime.”  Demanding something you don’t have from someone who has is no shame in our culture.  To prove his point, my teacher suggested an experiment.  When you go into a village and run into a beggar, you beg instead, saying  “I’m hungry.”  That’s what I did to a nearly naked herd boy who was looking after a bunch of sheep.  I said, “Ke lapile.  M’phe lijo.”  I’m hungry, give me food.  To my surprise, he pulled out without hesitation, a roasted corn on the cob from under his dirty blanket and gave it to me.  He probably gave up his lunch but he looked happy.  He helped a hungry stranger.  Sharing surplus is good only temporary, but sharing something important lasts longer.  That is what communion is about: It’s a symbol of sharing what is precious.  Remember Jesus shared himself.  What can we share to mend a broken world?  

 

Inflation cheapens real values

I HATE INFLATION
Re: Cartoon, Lethbridge Herald, December 16
                        
So penny will be history.  When I arrived in Canada, a cup of coffee cost only ten of those.  I hate inflation that made penny obsolete.  Money becomes cheaper, so does savings.  So why save, they say.  I don’t understand why a bit of inflation is better than deflation.  I hate anything that diminishes the value of real things.

Inflation is not only about money.   The other day I tried to fly to Toronto with the points I earned with a frequent flyers’ program.  I had to add more money to the accumulated credit, which had been enough to fly to Tokyo and back only two years ago.  I felt lied to.  No wonder people do not save any more.   They say that borrow money to buy now and pay later is cheaper.  

Another kind of inflation I hate is one with language.  What should be enough to say “nice” must now be “awesome” to mean the same thing.  What belonged to the divine, the word like “absolutely” is now a substitute for a mere “yes.”  Only God was “forever”, but now it’s  diamond.  A sales clerk is now called an “associate.”  With an enhanced title like that, one should expect an enhanced status. But it’s not the case.  “Associates” are  not even allowed to unionize.  

Coca Cola created an image of a fat bearded man in red for Santa Claus about a century ago.  He appears at every shopping mall, and changed a symbol of charity and love of an old saint who lived in Turkey into a  gimmick to sell merchandise.  I hate inflation.  Bring back the original Saint Nicholas who loved the poor who had no money to buy presents.

I guess I have to change with the time and stop ranting like this.  But I am an old retired bag of air, who still cherish old values, like beauty, charity, fairness, love, and simplicity.  They are not pennies.  I just wish that inflation will not diminish those important values into irrelevance.

WHY NEIGHBOURS ARE OFTEN ENEMIES?

WHY NEIGHBORS ARE OFTEN ENEMIES?

I applaud Calgarians who elected their new mayor.  Who has made an issue out of his religion before the election?  Nobody, until the national media pointed out that Mr. Nenshi was a Muslim.   Religion is not an issue in politics: Policy is. Why then is there so much suspicion about Islam?  Yes, there are problems with crazy Muslims as well as stupid Christians.  But they are a tiny minority.  We must remember that Christianity and Islam are cousins-in faith.  Both religions have  roots in Judaism: we are all children of Abraham,   How come then there is much hostilities where we are so close?  It seems that closeness brings out small difference into focus and makes it an irritation.

 I have often been asked if I could tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese.  Yes but not always.  When I was in South Africa during the 1970’s, Japanese were classified as “Honorary White” because of the trade links, but Chinese were not.  A bus driver was taken to court because he forced a Japanese business man off the whites only bus.   He was convinced that the man was a Chinese.  The prosecution lost the case because even the judge could not tell the difference.  

Often enemies are neighbors.  Irish and English, Chinese and Japanese, Basque and Spanish, Hutus and Tutsis, Israelis and Palestinians.   I think that the trouble is we are close enough to see them partly but refuse to see the whole.  So we fight over small things, even kill each other from time to time, because we don’t  try to understand the difference.  What a stupidity!  Why can’t we try to see the other side?  We don’t have to agree, but we can understand.  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.  There does not seem to be a possibility of a majority government in a foreseeable future.  A coalition is a good possibility.  There is already one in the U.K., and another in Australia.  Most of European governments are coalitions.  Why not in Canada?   Opposition parties are not enemies.  They are “loyal oppositions.” 

Scandalous Dinner – Communion

A SCANDALOUS DINNER
 Luke 5:27 – 32,  7:36-39

Have you ever been with someone you should not be seen with in a place you should not be?   I have.   When I was a newly ordained minister, I was asked by an Immigration officer to accompany a young woman to a clinic for the sexually transmitted disease.   She was suspected of attempting to enter Canada illegally.  I was asked to be an interpreter.   All the time I was in the waiting room I was praying very hard that noone I knew would come in.  I admit: I was worried only about my reputation, not at all about a person who was about to be deported.  She could have been an innocent victim of human traffic.  I  still feel ashamed that I was only concerned about me not about her.

When Jesus was seen eating dinner with tax collectors and other socially unacceptable characters, some Pharisees asked his disciples, “How come your teacher eat with such people?”  It must have been terribly embarrassing to the disciples.  Particularly in ancient times like the time of Jesus in the Jewish society which had a very strict code about eating.  There were many rules about what to eat, how to prepare it, how to eat it, and whom to eat it with.  No respectable Jew would be seen sitting at the same table eating dinner with a character like a woman of ill-repute or a tax official.  Tax-collectors were seen at the time as corrupt traitors who sold their souls to a foreign occupation authority for profit.  You see, at the time the tax collectors were contractors who made their living from commissions.   So you understand why they were hated and shunned.    What Jesus did was a scandal, eating with such people!   Even today, it is assumed that you have dinner only with someone close, special, and respectable.  It was much more so in ancient times when the dinner table was a very private place like a bed room.  We are going to observe communion this morning.   It is a commemoration of the dinner with Jesus.  You must understand the communion service in that context.  It is important to remember whom Jesus had dinners with.  Jesus gave a clear message that no one in his world should be exclude.

Jesus is telling us that everybody is a family and a friend.  Every one is invited to his table.  This is quite a revolutionary idea.  Many people thought he was crazy.  Even today such an act is often unacceptable and easily misunderstood.  It would be like eating at a Macdonald’s with a sex-trade worker.   Clearly, Jesus is rebelling against the accepted social order.  His idea of the universal love and inclusiveness is alien to our common sense even today.  You see how an animal eats, and how it growls when anybody comes close.   Food must be protected.  Herd animals eat together only with the close knit group of the same species.  It is natural to eat only with your family or with very close friends.  Food is precious.  You have to always fight for it and for the sake of your family.  So most of the living creatures are very picky about their dinner companions: that’s natural.  

So you can see what Jesus did was unprecedented.  He declared a new order.  Prophet Isaiah a long before Jesus advocated for a such world: the new world order where a lion and a lamb eat together, and a baby puts its hand into a poison snake’s den without being harmed.  No one in this new world will be harmed by another.  That’s Isaiah’s vision of God’s world.   Jesus was acting to demonstrate it.

Not only did Jesus eat with social outcastes, he also ate with rich people and people in high places.  He did not discriminate his dinner companions.  Why did he do that?  I believe he did that because he wanted to show the world that the human race is one, and noone should be excluded from the family of human race.  When you pray, “Thy kingdom come” you are praying for such an inclusive world.  He ate many dinners like that, and wanted his followers to remember such a dinner at his last supper.  He ate the last supper with those who betrayed him, and abandoned him.  Remember?  Everybody at that table ran away when Jesus needed friends, during his trial before the high priest.  Even the top cat disciple, Peter, said, “I don’t know him, I’ve  never seen him,”  three times.  Judas was not the only double-crosser, all the rest of them ran away too.  What a bunch of scums!  And yet he ate the last supper with them.  That is what he told us to remember and that is what we are remembering this morning.  We must remember what Jesus taught us during the first communion:  to be inclusive in our daily life – “Don’t exclude anybody!  Everybody is my friend and a friend of yours.”

Of course, you can not be eating with your family and close friends exclusively all the time.  There will be an occasion when you have to eat with someone not so intimate.  You have to eat with someone you have to make a business deal, you have to eat with someone you don’t know well but whom you have to honour.  You have to do this but under a set of rules.  This is why humans developed customs and table manners.  You can not just walk into anybody’s home for supper unannounced because you are hungry.   When you think of the customs and table manners, you realize that most of them began as safety measures to avoid bad feeling, unequal share of food, even violence.  You have to be nice to the guests, and share everything on the table.  This is why the person who presides over the procedures of eating together, particularly the one divides the food and drink must be respected.   This is why such a person is called the one who does the “honour”.  It is because such a person must be respected and trusted.  Jesus Christ was the first person who did the “honour” in the new world.

When I was working for an Ecumenical organization, conversation took place at a coffee break one day about Communion Service, more specifically about how different churches handled the left-over elements –  bread and wine.  A Roman Catholic woman said, “Of course, the priest locks it away.  It’s the body of Christ.  It’s sacred.”  An Anglican said, “the priest drinks and eats all the left-overs at the end of the sacrament.”  An United Church woman said, “I stuff my turkey.”  Each church has a different custom according to a particular belief.  But those are important manners with which to observe communion.  Like a dinner, each family has an unique custom.  We follow the custom of the communion service as an important ritual no matter how different the ways we follow it.  It represents Christ’s fundamental teaching of universal love and acceptance.  We are all in it together.  
                            

CANADA/JAPAN – Remerber all war dead

LET US REMEMBER THE WAR’S DEAD ON ALL SIDES

Tad Mitsui

“We owe it to everyone who perished to say, “Never again.”

I was a child during the second world war in Japan, and I had a simple faith.  Perhaps that’s what sustained me throughout the war.  In June, 1945, I had been evacuated from Tokyo and lived in the fishing port city of Numazu at the foot of Mt. Fuji.  One beautiful day, I was walking home with my friend from school.  The streets were covered by a canopy of fresh green leaves.  The “all-clear” siren had meant that bombers had left the area.  We were happy, kicking stones, fooling around.

Suddenly there was the sound of a bomb falling.  We hit the ground and covered ears, eyes, and the nostrils with our hands as we were all trained to do.  After a  huge shock that shook the ground, silence fell.  When I got up, I didn’t see my friend.  There was only a long piece intestine hanging from a tree branch.  He had been completely blown away.  It was a direct hit.

War is ugly.  No wonder many veterans don’t want to talk about their experiences.  I survived this.  I had my faith but also my nerves were numbed having seen many charred bodies and body-parts.  Death was everywhere.  The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the second one on Nagasaki, led to a quick end of the war.  It was a relief, we were exhausted.

Since coming to Canada in 1957, I have served the United Church.  But I have always felt a tiny apprehension participating in the observance of Remembrance Day, though I believe it to be an important part of ministry.  H have never been able to honour the war dead in my family except in silence, because they died fighting for Japan.  When the vanquished are not included in remembrance, it takes away their dignity as people who mourn them, and a faith that sustained them.  Only by remembering all of the war dead can we mean what we say: that we prayer for peace.

My granduncles Masao and Shiro both died in 1900 in the Ruso-Japan War.  They were my grandmother’s brothers.   Masao, a navy lieutenant, died while leading a fleet of old cargo ships to seal the port of Yingkon (Port Arthur), where the Russian Pacific fleet was based.  He was ordered to scuttle the ships and sink them at the mouth of the port.  But his boat was blown up by a land-based artillery with him on it.  Shiro died of dysentery in a field hospital.  They were twenty-eight and twenty-three respectively.

My uncle Mitsugu was my father’s youngest brother.  He was briefly my Sunday School teacher and was my favourite relative.  He was conscripted and lost in the battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in 1944.  He is still missing officially but presumed dead.  Nobody knows whether he died at the sea or lost in the jungle and starved to death.  Only a few in the regiment came home.  He went to war most reluctantly, because he was a pacifist.  He was eighteen.

All those uncles were Christians.  The Mitsuis have been a proud Christian family for four generations, since the late 1980’s when Christianity was till prohibited.  In my family there was no problem fighting Russians, but the World War II was a big problem.  My family was all Methodists, and all women went to the Canadian Methodist schools and my father went to an  American Methodist Seminary in Japan.  The kindergarten I went to was American Methodist, and my favourite teacher was Miss Winifred Draper.  My father became a pacifist.

I believe that war is evil, and all those who died are victims.  Perhaps this is the lesson in Christian pacifism I learned from my father.  The Memorial at the Peace Park in Hiroshima simply says, “Rest in Peace.  We will never repeat the same mistake.”  That pledge should be made to all who lost their lives, regardless of their nationality or loyalty, whether they were soldiersor civilians, men or women, elderly or children.

JAPAN: What I learned when I was Grade One, 1938

The Japanese writing system has two streams: one using Chinese characters called Kanji, and the other,  phonetic signs called Kana.  The latter could be seen as an counterpart of the European alphabet.  It has 51 characters.  One eleventh century genius in Japan, probably a Buddhist monk, wrote a poem using all phonetic signs without repeating even one character, describing the whole of Buddhist philosophy.  We used to sing it in the grade one class, not so much to learn the Buddhist teaching but to learn alphabet.  I have come to love its depth and simplicity.

“Colours fragrant but fade.
Is anybody unchangeable in our world?
Today, I shall overcome the jungle of hustle and bustle,
Without getting drunk by their shallow dreams.”

CANADA: The day of the cats, 2010

Life with a cat in Lethbridge
– Respect all life forms –

People who rescue abandoned pets and pay for the vet’s bills so that they can be adopted, are heroes in my book.  We adopted a stray male cat from such an animal  rescue group in Lethbridge three years ago, 2007.  He had apparently been horribly abused.  He has a broken chest bone and F.I.V. (feline version of H.I.V.)    His ears are deformed probably from frostbite.  But we love him dearly.   According to a vet, a cat normally falls on four paws and seldom breaks a chest bone unless it is thrown from a fast moving vehicle or kicked hard.  Every time I look at our poor cat, I wonder how could any human be so cruel to a small helpless animal.  

Albert Sweitzer, a physician, a theologian, a scholar of Bach, and a renown organ virtuoso, who ran a leprosarium in Gabon, said, “respect for life” is the highest form of ethics.  True, we have to kill other lives in order for us to live.  I hear that the First Nations people treat the animals they kill for food with gratitude and respect.  We should do the same: respect for life.

A century ago, a famous Japanese humorist and a writer Soseki Natsume wrote a hilarious satire titled  “I am a Cat.” (Available in English from Tuttle Publishing.)   It is a life of an academic in a story told from a point of view of a cat.  It exposes a life full of hubris and of vanity in academia.  Natsume was a professor of Literature at the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University.  Hence it is a self-mocking fiction.  In it, every time the cat suffers cruelties done to him by humans, our hero, the cat, mumbles, “Just wait till the Day of the Cats.”

Considering the way humans are driving many species into extinction because of our insatiable greed for wealth and comfort, the day of judgement may come not only to evil people, but to all humanity.  Many religions have a concept of the ultimate event.  Buddhists wait for Nirvana, Jews wait for the Messiah, Christians for the Second Coming, etc.   But judging from the way humans trample on other life forms without respect, it’s easier to imagine the “Day of the Cats.”

Respect for animals is not a luxury afforded to the middle class, it’s a harbinger of love and respect.  More importantly, it could be the only way for our survival.  We live in a world of interdependence.  The life of a cat matters.

Capitalists hit back

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

On August 9, 2010, the Lethbridge Herald published an article titled, “Friedman’s ideas alive and well” by Brett Skinner of an conservative think tank, the Fraser Institute.

Despite the recent meltdown of the global economy and the lingering economic woes, Brett Skinner of the Fraser Institute still touts the gospel according to Milton Friedman with its doctrine of total freedom of market.  I could not believe it.  I thought, “Wow!  Empire strikes back.”  Even Allan Greenspan, the cheerleader-in-chief of capitalism, was shocked by the devastating effects of uncontrolled greed.   Naturally, I have many qualms with Mr. Skinner.

1.   Friedman advocates total economic freedom and antipathy to regulations.  That does not fit Canadian reality.   Skinner says, “a reduction in the burden of regulation” has to be the foundation of the public policy.  Fewer restrictions will “increase economic growth.”  If that is the case, Mr. Stephen Harper must not be proud of Canadian banking system.   Our current Prime Minister is the most free-market-oriented political leader I know hence a disciple of Friedman.   As such, by definition he should be against all regulations restricting the activities of the banks.  But he says he is proud of our banking system.   He says, that Canada’s banks are well regulated unlike that of many other countries.  Regulations saved our banks and Harper is proud of it?  This must be contrary to Friedman’s dictum.   

2.  Friedman preaches, according to Skinner, ”the body of research” shows that “freer economies tend to be more prosperous” and that “economically free societies are also more politically free.”  That’s not the reality.  How can he explain the rapid rise of Chinese economy, for example?  I had never seen an economy that grew so fast and a country that became so prosperous in such a short time as China.  Yet politically, it is one of the most repressive countries in the world.  Another example in the same vein: the most brutal dictator in recent history, Augusto Pinochet was praised most enthusiastically by Margaret Thatcher, a champion of the free market.  She once said famously, “There is no such thing as society, there is only market.”   Political repression helps capitalism too.  

I am not a dogmatic socialist.  I accept that the market economy is good at creating wealth.  But I also believe in justice.  Everybody is entitled to a piece of pie.  “Capitalism produces and socialism distributes.”  Therefore, I believe that there have to be rules.  Greed must be harnessed.  We live in a society, not a jungle.

                                               

Crows, dandelions, and raw fish

IT TAKES ALL KINDS

It takes all kinds to make a country like Canada.  To make a nation out of different peoples, one has to appreciate and understand difference.  I can list many examples.  Here are a few.

I was interested reading a couple of letters on this paper about crows recently.  Let me voice another view point:  In Japan, crows are loved as the birds that are seen as kind and faithful creatures, and they are plenty.  Crows are very family oriented, they mate for life, and they are smart.  Being brought up in Japan, I don’t understand why they are disliked in Canada.   I think crows get the bad press here.  A species that is disliked in one culture can be loved in another.

Before sushi became an integral part of the North American conversation and diet, many people used to think that it was an uncivilized barbarism to eat raw fish.  Many European explorers, Englishmen and Vikings who came to Canada and Greenland might not have to perish if they ate raw fish and meat like the Inuit.  

When I lived in Vancouver soon after I came to Canada, a bunch of Italian children came one day to ask if they could dig up dandelions in my shamefully unkept front yard.  I had no idea then Europeans loved dandelions in their salad.  Later in my life, when I lived in Switzerland,  a family of Swiss friends and I used to go to a pasture in France to collect soft and juicy dandelions.  An article in April by a famous Montreal chef of a high class restaurant “Toque”, Normand Laprise, on the Globe and Mail, extort the virtue of dandelions, for its gastronomical and nutritious values in salad.  It is believed that it was the British Army that brought dandelions to the North America.  I heard that dandelions saved many soldiers’ lives in the spring, of those who survived scurvy during the winter when there was no fresh vegetables.  I love the slightly bitter taste of young and tender dandelion leaves.  You have to harvest them before they blossom.

Canada is a nation of many peoples with many cultures and traditions, and we are proud of it.  It will be good if we learn from difference, appreciate it and adjust the familiar views of things         accordingly.  When we do, we will make our lives richer.  We may find ourselves better equipped to survive in turbulent times.

JAPAN: I went to the Philippines , 1956

War against Guerrillas requires different strategy – not Regular Armed Forces
– A lesson from the Japanese experience in the Philippines –

In May 1956, I went to the Philippines as a volunteer to work in a school reconstruction project in a village called Balinbing on the island of Mindanao after a huge earthquake.  The project was organized by the World Council of Churches for university students from many countries in the world.  I had a 24/7 police escort while I was there.  This was because there were still many people who had vowed to kill the first Japanese they saw.  Stories after stories, I heard terrible incidents of brutalities and  massacres committed against Filipino civilians by the Japanese military.  General Yamashita, then the Supreme Commander of the Japanese Occupation forces and many others were tried and executed for the war crime.

During my stay for the volunteer work in the Philippines, I made some good friends.  They gradually opened up and told me of the circumstances under which the butcheries were committed.  The Americans came to the island of Luzon to liberate the Phillppines under General MacArthur, but not to Mindanao.  The battles there were fought mainly between the guerrillas called the Huks, made up of mainly Moro people,  and the Japanese regular army.  The problem for the Japanese was that those guerrillas were indistinguishable from villagers during the daytime thus invisible (because many of them were villagers), but they took up weapons at night and attacked the occupiers.  Japanese couldn’t tell who their enemies were.  So they tortured and killed many non-combatant civilians as well as some fighters.

It’s the same stories where-ever wars are fought between the regular armies and the guerrillas.  It is repeated again and again, for example, in France – Germans killed innocent civilians together with the French resistance, “Maquis”, in Viet Nam by Americans, and now in Afghanistan.   And the record for the regular armed forces in such wars is not very good.  Mighty armies are defeated by ragtag collection of rubber sandal-wearing and poorly clad people whose weapons are often just AK47 and homemade bombs.   It has a sophisticated name like “Improvised Explosive Devise”, but it’s a homemade bomb.  This war in Afghanistan is not working.  Such a war never works for the regular army where the guerrillas have popular support.  Find other ways.  And save the lives of our magnificent young people in the armed forces.  They are in the wrong place.

 

July 13, 2010

CANADA: Life in Lethbridge – Happy as a chicken head, 2000 –

Life in Lethbridge – Happy as a chicken head

I must confess that having lived in big cities most of my life before retirement, the idea of moving to Lethbridge felt like a let-down.  Compared to Tokyo or Toronto, Geneva or Montreal, Lethbridge seemed such a back-water.  After ten years, however, it may not be a paradise, but it feels to me to be a very good place to be indeed.  There is saying in Chinese, “It’s better to be a head of a chicken than a tail of a cow.” I feel like that.  I was nobody, but here I can be somebody.  A tail of a cow can be a great place to be; big, prestigious, and more valuable.   A tail can perform important tasks, but you have to live with what comes out of the end of a body.  The bigger the  organizations, the more politics than substance.   And you are often nobody in a big political scheme of things – just a cog.  I got tired of it.

I am serious when I say, I became more cultured in Lethbridge.  I had never attended as many concerts until I came to Lethbridge.  My friends are performing with whom I can chat about it afterwards.  He may not be Yo Yo Mah, but I have no sophisticated enough ears to hear the difference anyway.  It is more important to hear music that makes me feel I am participating in the creative process that makes me content.  I have never seen so many Contemporary Art until I came to Lethbridge.  Again, they are my friends, and I got to know some of the creative processes and struggles.  So I understand now what his or her art means as never before.  I found that Lethbridge is well-known as an important centre for contemporary art in Canada.  The political party I committed to has absolutely no hope of getting into power in Alberta.  But my contribution counts and is visible and appreciated.  Thus I don’t feel powerless.  I am a head, or somewhere near the head , of a chicken.  And I am happy.  I am glad that I am not a tail of a big and powerful cow.  At my age, I have no stomach for shit.

A small community allows one to be relevant, because one does not feel alone.  There is a saying in Lesotho in Southern Africa, “A person is a person only amongst people.  (Motho ke motho ka batho.)”  How true!

July 12, 2010

Sex scandals in the church

Exposing sexual scandals in the church is good for religion.

Sexual scandals of the Catholic Church unfolding everyday in the media must be extremely distressing to the faithfuls but ultimately I think it is good for religion.  For one thing, it makes clear that religions are human institutions.  I am not saying this because I belong to the United Church and not the Roman Catholic Church.  The churches are all in the same boat together.  All the churches suffer from the loss of credibility.  I was in an administrative position of the United Church during the 1990’s in Quebec, and I can tell you that we had our own share of sexual scandals.  Predators were mostly clergymen (sic) abusing their positions for personal gratification.  On my watch in my jurisdiction alone the United Church lost two court cases arising from the complaints of sexual harassments.  However,  I believe ultimately it is good that the problem is now being exposed.  It is cleansing.  It reveals the truth about human nature: power corrupts all of us.

It is good that those scandals force the churches to examine the power of the clergy and the role of the church hierarchy.  In the final analysis, Christians are supposed to believe that power belongs to God only as we pray, “For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power…”  We also believe that no human has a monopoly on truth.   No human, no clergy nor hierarchy, should have unimpeachable power and the unquestionable knowledge of the ultimate truth; only God does.  Those scandals force us to pull the clergy class and the church hierarchy down from the false pedestal.  We are all humans, good and bad, beautiful and ugly: the clergy class no exception.

Religious people now and then claim an exclusive access to the divine power and truth, and abuse such presumption to exploit others for personal benefit.  No human has such power.  The same rule, by the way, should apply to all job categories where one is given licence to exercise power over others because of their special knowledge; be it a financial adviser, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a politician, or a car-salesman.   Some people may have special gifts for sure, by nature or by training. Even then they must be subjected to checks and balances, because all humans are fallible.

The bigger, the worse

No, bigger is not always better.

Toyota got into trouble as soon as it replaced GM as the biggest automaker in the world.  It became apparent that Toyota was hiding a serious problem for some years because of the pressure to become No. 1.  I wonder why the big must always strive to be bigger risking an ultimate existential demise.  It does not need to be like that.  It is already big.  So many huge corporations nearly failed and had to be bailed out costing taxpayers billions because they adopted questionable business practices in their efforts to become even bigger: Chrysler, GM, AIG, and the list goes on.  I guess it’s like a gambler who could not stop gambling when winning.  If you think of the large corporation that were responsible by instigating the World War II, such as the Krupp of Germany and the Mitsui (no relation of mine) of Japan, BIG can even be evil.  Didn’t a President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, warned about the danger of the growing military industrial complex dictating the policy?  He should know what he was talking about.  He was a general and a war hero before he was elected President.

A few decades ago, there was a book written by a man by the name of E.F. Schumacher, titled “Small is Beautiful.”  He was a German-born economist who lived in England and pioneered the notion of the importance of regional economies (as opposed to the global economy).  He also emphasized the importance of ecologically and socially responsible consumption.   I heard him once in Toronto during the 1980’s.  I don’t remember exactly what he said but I remember him warning about the destructive nature of the BIG and praising enthusiastically about the SMALL.  The bigger, the cheaper is not always everybody’s cup of tea.   I for one want quality though it may cost more.   Quality pays because it lasts longer.   Bigger is not always better nor cheaper.

A story has it that one day an American, a Frenchman, and a German were discussing elephants.  The American wants to discuss the way to make elephants bigger and better.  The Frenchman’s interest was , of course, the love life of elephants.  The German kept talking about the ontological significance of elephants.  We do have other values that are important; such as love or existential meaning.

I gave my love a Smart Car, and she loves it.

Save tuna

NO MORE SUSHI?

I am a Japanese by origin and love sushi, but reject the nonsensical argument that raw tuna is an essential part of Japanese diet.  Sushi and Sashimi can use other fish like Koi (carp) which is increasing so fast threatening ecology of the Great Lakes.  Equally I reject the argument that whale meat is a traditional Japanese food.  Let CITES ban trade of bluefin tuna.  And stop the carnage of whales.  In Japan, the fishing industries are so powerful that all political parties tremble when they speak.  Thus lies become truth.

Sushi lovers can happily pursue delicious sushi without raw tuna.  I organize a sushi making contest every year in Lethbridge with a bunch of friends, all hedonists who would never allow cheap food on their palates.  Contestants join the competition on the condition that they avoid the use of raw meats.  There are hundreds of possibilities to create delicious and beautiful sushi without using raw fish or uncooked meat.  For example, California Roll is a vegetarian dish.  My favourite is Inarizushi, made of rice and vinegar stuffed in pockets of thin fried tofu.  My mother used to feast us with totally vegetarian  Osaka-style Chirashi Sushi.   Many contestant sushi makers learn those beautiful and delicious sushi on internet.    You can never see the kinds I saw at our Sushi-Off in the restaurants.  They are so beautiful; I wish I can show you the pictures.  Let’s stop using raw tuna and let the species recover.  I hope it isn’t too late.

As for whale, that it is labeled as a traditional Japanese diet is a totally invented myth.  The first time I was offered whale meat, it was by a man working for a Japanese Trading company in Vancouver in 1964.  I could not eat it more than a tiny bite thinking about the intelligent creature murdered and butchered.  I grew up in Japan and came to Canada in 1957.  I had never heard nor seen whale meat as a part of our diet.  It’s a completely different story in the case of seal meat for Inuit.   Let us build up a strong public opinion to completely ban whale hunt, no more nonsense calling killing of hundreds of whales for “scientific research.”

 

The New Earth without us

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS

Whenever I think of the future of our planet, I have to fight encroaching pessimism hard and keep my faith in common sense and wisdom.   But some people just don’t get it even with an overwhelming evidence that we are heading towards a catastrophic disaster.  Ice is melting, many species disappearing, the seas are rising, etc.  If this is not so alarming, why are so many people including Stephen Harper suddenly interested in the Arctic?  Until now Ice is so thick that nobody cared too much about the life-style of the Inuit or the welfare of polar bears.  Now that it is melting and the sea is increasingly wide open, suddenly the mineral rights of the sea bed, the sovereignty of Northwest Passage, etc. have become important issues.   I am dismayed by the mind-set, “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with facts.”  Are the humans basically so stupid and self-destructive?

However,  I heard a sort-of good news in a recent event in February at the University of Lethbridge with Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon who tends to be rather pessimistic on the question of environment.  In a panel discussion with Homer-Dixon, James Byrne, our own Lethbridge environment guru, assured us, “Don’t worry about the planet earth.  It went through many catastrophes, but it recovered and came out differently with new life-forms on it:  dinosaurs disappeared but something else took over, and so on.  The earth always recovers.  Don’t worry about it.”

However, the bad news is: “The newly configured earth likely will not have humans on it and it will probably be a better planet without us,” by Dr. Byrne’s statement.  That might be comforting if you don’t care about welfare of your offspring.  The earth will probably be O.K. until you die and a few decades after.  And those who drown first in rising seas are people who live far away, a place like Kiribati or Tuvalu.  You can worry only about your pension hoping that it lasts till you die, or you can do something fast about the environment if you care about your grand-children’s grand-children.  You choose!

When did Canada become an American lackey?

When asked to define a Canadian, the usual answer used to be, “We are not Americans.”   However, for a while the current government seemed to have changed that notion.  Mr. Harper spoke about “Made in Canada” solutions to the environment issues only a few years ago.  Now the new dictum seems to be the same old, same old, with a variation,  “We are not Americans, but we have to wait for Americans to speak first.”  Again we affirmed ourselves to be a default nation.   “We are what we are not.”

For some time now, we have had a party in power only because the opposition party has been weak.  We have been electing a government by default.  We elected Stephen Harper into power because he was not Stephan Dion.  It was like that during the days when the Liberals were the natural-governing-party.  We had the Liberal government forever because the right of centre was splintered, not necessarily because we agreed with the Liberal party platform.  I think that it is getting worse.  The Conservatives refuse to take a stand on environment and wait for American to say something first.  They say that our economies are so integrated that it would be unrealistic to do anything independently from Americans.

Had we followed that logic, we should have joined Americans in Iraq.  I remember Mr. Harper, in opposition at the time, accused Mr Chretien of “betraying a friend” when he decided to keep Canada out of the coalition.  We could still be waiting for the U.S. Congress to pass the health care reform legislation before we have our own.  Thank goodness, Canada is forty years ahead of the U.S. on that one.  We used to have some good ideas.  We still do.

When I came to Canada in 1957, I often heard an expression from Japanese-Canadian, “We trusted Canadian justice and fair play.”  What happened to that phrase to define Canada?  Did it become obsolete and we moved on to the next favourite colour?

I can not believe Mr. Harper, who is very intelligent and smart, and a committed conservative, just waiting for Mr. Obama, who is a most left-leaning President of the U.S. ever, to speak first.  Or does he have a hidden agenda?  I want him to tell us where he stands?  Sorry, we are Canadians, we follow Americans.  This is not good enough.

It’s not all act of God

NATURAL DISASTER IS NOT ALL ACT OF GOD
POVERTY IS THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING

Why do people starve?  The answer is quite simple.  They starve because they are poor.  But the world would rather give food aid to the starving people than making them rich enough to feed themselves, because we are not willing to give up our affluent life style.  We rather give what we can spare.  We should ask the same question about the tragedy in Haiti.  Why God allows such a devastating catastrophe to happen?  The answer is the same.  Because Haiti is poor.   Cheaply built buildings crumbled easily.   Let’s talk about the food shortage first.

At the height of famine in 1985, I went to Makele in Northern Ethiopia to observe the feeding operations.  I was just appointed as Coordinator of the famine relief of the World Council of Churches based in Geneva, Switzerland.  The horrific scene I saw must still be familiar to many people’s memories, skeletal bodies of dying people lying on the ground with their hollow eyes looking at the merciless camera.  However, a big surprise came next.  Representatives of the relief organizations were taken to a hotel by the government officials for lunch.  It was a wonderful Italian dish.  It was only a few miles away from the feeding camp where people were starving to death.  There was food if you had money.   Even in the midst of famine, food is available.  In fact, food has always been plentiful in the world.  The problem is rather too much food, and food producers in poor countries don’t get enough income because surplus food from overseas is cheaper.  Ethiopian peasants died because they had no money to buy food nor could they produce food.   Why?  There was no farm credit for inputs and implements.  Southern Alberta is a semi-desert,  but farmers do not starve and keep on producing food, because they have access to credit and crop insurance.  Food production is possible in the semi-desert, because there is enough money to build infrastructure such as irrigation systems.  If you don’t have money, you can neither produce food nor buy food.  So you starve.

There was a scandal in Europe in the midst of the African famine of the 1980’s.  An Italian journalist noticed that a tin of corned beef had a label,  “Made with beef from Ethiopia.”  OXFAM,  U.K. picked up the story and did some digging.  They discovered that during the height of famine, Ethiopia increased its food export.  Ethiopia exports beef, coffee, and sugar.  How do they do that?  Because their factory farms has better land and government subsidies has been generous:  the government needed foreign currency to buy weapons to fight the civil war.  So Ethiopia had surplus food in the middle of starvation.  The problem was that people could not live on coffee and sugar, and beef was too expensive to produce for farmers.

The problem of hunger in the world is not the problem of availability of food, it’s the question of accessibility to it.  Food is plentiful and available if you have money to buy it.  If you have money, you can produce food too.  The Western countries are reluctant to give farm subsidies to the poor countries because our agro-business does not want more competitions, while our governments’ subsidy to the food producers is enormous.  So we don’t mind giving surplus food as food aid, but we don’t want the poor countries to become rich enough to produce their own food.  We don’t starve because we have money.  No money?  They starve.

The miracle of the feeding of thousands in the Gospel according to John has an interesting added story.  Verse 8 says, “There is a boy who had five loaves of barley bread and two fish.”  That food was what Jesus blessed and fed five thousand people with.  The point of the story is not the miracle but the sacrifice made by the boy.  Many people interpret this story as a miracle story that proves that Jesus was the son of God.  I don’t believe that this is the point.

If you learn about other religions, such a miracle is not unusual.  Many legends are miracles stories.  They simply try to express their belief in an exceptional person by telling the amazing stories of miracle they are supposed to have performed.  They may have made up such stories.   Even if it is a made up story,  you can not dismiss it because it conveys an important message.  You have to ask why people created such an image of the person they loved and respected.  For example, it has been fifty-three years since I left Japan.  Every time I visit Japan for family celebrations and other events, I am always surprised by the myths created about me during my absence.  I got tired of correcting their mistakes nowadays.  Instead, I learned to appreciate the image of me created that reflects their view of Tad Mitsui.  If you want to believe this story as a historical fact to prove Jesus Christ was the son of God, that is your choice.  But you can not dismiss the importance of this story because it is a made up story.  I believe it has an important meaning even if it was not a miracle.

For example, I see the sacrifice that the boy made by giving up all the food he had is  a very important point of this story.  Five loaves and two fish were all he had.  It could have been his lunch, or could have been a lunch for his family.  But when he heard Jesus saying to the disciples to find out what food they could find, he gave it all up.  He didn’t give up some and kept most of it for himself.  But He gave it all he had.  When someone is ready to sacrifice everything, amazing things can happen.

Haiti is a tragic country.  Earthquake resulted such a devastating catastrophe because the country is so poor.  Buildings were built, according to our standard, very poorly.  Imagine a three story concrete block building without any reenforcement?  Earthquake is a natural disaster, act of God if you will.  But the rich can cope with it much better, because everything is of a better quality, buildings and infrastructure.  And a poor country is often densely populated so one crumbling building can kill more people than it does in Canada.  Sometime ago, there was a terrible earthquake which killed more than three thousand people in Nicaragua.  The same earthquake with the same strength hit San Fernando Valley in California at the same instance.  The total death toll in California was six people.  Again, just like the case of food shortage, people suffer more in a poor country.

The problem is that we are not willing to deal with poverty, because the solution to poverty requires sacrifice on our part requiring not just a spare change.  A system change is required.  We are not ready to give up the system that has made us rich.  We don’t mind giving food aid, but we don’t want them to become our competitor.  Haiti used to be a rice producer.  The land is suited ro rice production.   But cheap rice from Louisiana and North Carolina destroyed the Haitian rice farming.  The farmers in the States can produce cheap rice because they are subsidised in the tune of 41%.  American farmers didn’t intend to destroy Haitian rice industry, but they didn’t want to give up government subsidy either.  And they need to sell their surplus rice overseas.

Feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fish is a miracle.  It is not a miracle because Jesus proved his magical power as the son of Gos, but it is because there was someone who gave up all he had.  God will bless such sacrificial love, and perform miracles, even today.

Penis of Jesus – When Jesus became Christian, did he cease to be a Jew?

Examination of anti-Semitism in Renaissance religious art

Religions bear a lot of responsibility in arousing and perpetuating racism, including anti-Semitism.  I want to examine Renaissance religious art that exposes the Christian church’s latent but profound anti-Semitism.  Why?  It is very important for me as an active advocate of  human rights.   It has been my experience that  as soon as you begin to speak about the human rights record of the  State of Israel , you are dismissed as an anti-Semite.  It is ridiculous to label me as such.  My grand daughters are half Jewish, and a half of my daughter’s relations are Jewish.  I continue my work in the effort to stamp out racism in all forms particularly Anti-Semitism, in order to continue my advocacy for universal human rights without being accused of holding a double standard.

At the outset, however, I must acknowledge with gratitude, help and encouragement I received from two professors of the U of L in this enquiry.  Anne Dymond, a professor of Art History, who encouraged me to pursue the subject, and Mary Kavanagh, Chair of the Department of Art, who introduced me to Leo Steinberg’s work.  Steinberg was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and in 1983  published a book called “The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion”.
My query began when I sat in an art history class for two semesters at the University of Lethbridge.  While going through the Renaissance period, I was struck by two odd things about naked bodies of the Biblical characters.  (Fig. 1, 2,3 – Michelangelo)  First of all, they are all male figures.  There are undraped females in Renaissance art, but they are pagan figures like Venus.  Secondly, though they represent  Jewish males, they are not circumcised.  It was not that difficult for me to interpret this as a mark of male chauvinism and anti-Semitism in the Christian Church, which commissioned those artistic works.  I realized then how deep and entrenched the church held those views and influenced generations of racist practices and misogyny, especially against the Jews.

There is a book written by Barrie Wilson, who teaches religion at York University in Toronto, titled “How Jesus became Christian.”  He examines the process in which a movement within Judaism in Palestine became another religion, no longer Judaism.   During the first century, a man called Joshua or Yeshua in Hebrew became Iesus in Greek, Jesus in English, in the new religion.  And Messiah or Messhiah in Hebrew also became Xristus in Greek, Christ in English.   A few centuries following, the selection of the books that became the present day Christian Bible, was canonized by the church in AD 393 at the Synod of Hippo, at the time when the church was eager to erase as much traces of Jewishness as possible.  This is why, Wilson contends, that the New Testament itself is inherently anti-Semitic, particularly Luke, Acts, and Paul’s letters.  The New Testament is where the notion of the Jews being murderers of Christ came from.   It was an official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican Council II, which was held during the 1960’s.  The Church took 350 years to admit that the church was wrong and Galileo was right, but two thousand years to admit that the Jews could not be blamed for the murder of Jesus.
Let me go back to the subject of art.  In the Art History class, I was surprised when I first saw Michelangelo’s Risen Christ.  (Slide 2 and 3) I was not surprised to see Jesus in a naked male body.  Michelangelo did many nude figures, including the most famous David in Florence. (Slide 1).  My amazement was seeing a Jewish male not circumcised.  The Book of Genesis 17 indicates how important circumcision was as a mark of a special relationship between God and the Israelites.  Every Jewish male child is circumcised after eight days of birth even today.  (So is a Muslim baby.  Arabs and Jews are the children of Abraham.)  How can anyone deny that Jesus was circumcised? (Slide – Circumcision by Mantegna)
I looked at other Renaissance religious art and ventured into some speculations.  I made a quick survey of artists who painted Mother and Child, (Slides 3, and next few slides of Mother and Child are by Botticelli, Bruegel and others)   Note Mary’s hand.  It is drawing the attention of the viewers to the child’s genitals and you will see the same problems: emphasis on maleness and rejection of Jewishness.  Some people defend those artists.  Their argument is:  Renaissance was a movement to revive the ancient Greco/Roman culture.  Greeks didn’t think that a female body was as perfect as a male body, so there are few female nudes.  Also the Greeks were not circumcised, they never saw circumcised genitals and didn’t know how they looked like.  Therefore Renaissance artists, so the argument goes,  did what the Greeks did.   I don’t accept such an argument.

Renaissance people  certainly must have known how a circumcised penis looked like.  Many North African slaves lived among them in Europe and surely exposed their bodies dead or alive.  They were Muslims and were certainly circumcised.  The depiction of the Biblical males not circumcised was an explicit rejection of an important sign of the covenant between God and the offspring of Abraham – Jews and Arabs.  The Church and the artists certainly knew that Jesus was circumcised.  (Slide 4 – Circumcision by Montegna) But the church tried to distance itself from Judaism by instructing the artists to eradicate the sign of a special relationship between God and the sons of Abraham.  The process of de-Judaisation began with Paul, who determined that Baptism alone was enough to enter the church.  Circumcision was dismissed as optional.  An early Christian theologian, Tertullian said, “the faith has turned away from circumcision back to the integrity of the flesh, as it was from the beginning.”   Origine and Augustine and many other fathers of Christian thought followed the same argument.  Leo Steinberg concludes, “The reason for the Child’s (and other Biblical figures’) apparent uncircumcision must lie in the artists’ (and the church’s) sense of the body’s perfection.”  Jesus, the Son of God, can not be imperfect.  Jews can not be perfect human because of circumcision?  This is how the church rejected Jewishness of Jesus.  Son of God must be without a shameful scar, or an embarrassing defect as these church fathers  called it.
Another telling feature of Mother and
Child in Renaissance art is the scene depicting the Magi paying homage to the Holy Child.   It is the scene of Epiphany, revelation of the son of God to the pagan world, represented by the Magi, who came from the East.  A close look at them, it is easy to see what the Magi is looking at. The Magi is clearly showing that they are staring at Baby’s genital.  The Magi represented the pagan world,  therefore they must be told in no uncertain terms that the true God is a male.

I come from the East.  So I know how much female divinities   can be popular figures in other cultures.  For example, the one who gave birth to the Japanese archipelago was a goddess, Izanami, and a    mystic figure who was supposed to be the founder of the Japanese nation is a goddess, the Sun Goddess of Amaterasu.  Therefore the moment of Epiphany when the Magi came to visit the child is not only a demonstration to the pagans who the true son of the true God was, but also he was a “HE”, a male person.  Therefore, the Magi must see with his own eyes that Jesus, a new born son of God was a boy.  It is no wonder that male-chauvinism is well entrenched in the Christian Church, even though things are changing in some churches.

If you think that I am picking only on the Catholic Church, you are quite wrong.  Read Martin Luther, the first Protestant reformer.  His tirade against the Jews was venomous: in 1543, he wrote “Jews are base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted of filth – devil’s faeces.”  The K.K.K. began as  a Protestant movement, and it’s mission is anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-Catholicism.  I personally encountered people who said, “the mark of Cain” was a Biblical basis to exclude non-white races as referred to in the Chapter 4 of the Book of Genesis, by Protestant people in Canada and South Africa.

Yes, religions have a lot to answer for taking advantage of racism.  You may ask me, “Are you still a Christian?”  And I say emphatically, “Yes, I am.”  I believe that religion is an important instrument in our pursuit of truth.  It is as much a legitimate channel as art, philosophy, and science.  However, all human effort to find what is true can be abused in a pursuits of power and domination.  By striving for power instead of truth, we can go against truth.  This is how any religion can become evil by twisting the truth and excluding and demonizing others in order to glorify itself beyond and against what is truth.  This is why I am keen to expose past mistakes in my own faith tradition in order to strive towards what is truly true.

Regular Armed forces can not defeat people

We need to find different ways to fight real enemies.

In 1955, I joined a group of university students from all over the world to join an international volunteers work camp.  We were helping a village called Balingbing on the Philippine island of Minadao to recover from the devastation after a severe earthquake.  

It took a long time for me to obtain a visa to enter the Philippines, because the authorities had to make sure my security could be guaranteed.  The anti-Japanese sentiment was still strong, where the atrocity committed against civilian population by Japanese Imperial Army was brutal.  While there, I heard many stories of savageries and massacres.  I completely understood why they hated Japanese so much.

The regular armed forces are organized by the state according to the premise that the opposition is also organized  by the state and are identifiable and visible with uniforms and insignia.  The battles must be fought according to the rule of engagement by the Geneva Convention.  This is why, until such recognition was given to some irregular fighters for their legitimate struggles for freedom, the irregular fighters such as the French maquis or the Philippino Huks were often summarily executed without the due process.

The trouble was those fighters without uniforms are invisible among a crowd of civilians.  In many instances some of them are guerrillas.  This is why many armies who were fighting the guerrillas had troubles distinguishing enemy from civilians.  Therefore, many innocent civilians fall victim of attacks by the regular uniformed soldiers, hence hatred among  population increases.  I saw this in the Philippines and can see this happening in Afghanistan.

Maintaining the regular armed forces are expensive but guerrillas are cheap.  A Vietcong with sandals made of old tires carrying only an AK47 defeated the world’s most powerful U.S. Armed Forces.  The story is the same with the Soviet military in Afghanistan during the eighties.  The regular army can not win the war with irregular fighters who have the support of the population.

The same story is repeated time and again in history since the Helvetic Confederation when a small band of determined fighters fought with sticks and stones and defeated the mighty empire and established the Old Swiss Confederation in the 13th Century.  It’s time we stop sacrificing our magnificent young people in an unwinnable war and find different ways to fight the invisible enemy by finding first the causes of such discontent and hatred.

SOUTH AFRICA: Letters from South Africa, 1994

LETTERS FROM SOUTH AFRICA

A JOURNAL OF AN ELECTION OBSERVER, April, 1994

Tad Mitsui was appointed to be a member of the Ecumenical Monitoring Program for South Africa (EMPSA) in 1994.  It was a program organized by the World Council of Churches to enable the South African Council of Churches, which was an official member of the Independent Electoral Commission for the first democratic general election in South Africa involving the total population, to fulfil its obligations.

The following are the journal he wrote in Johannesburg and Durban.

WHO ARE WE?  AND WHAT ARE WE EXPECTED TO DO?
By Tad Mitsui

We are staying at a hotel in Johannesburg for a week, being briefed about the tasks ahead of us in the WCC sponsored n Ecumenical Monitoring Program in South African. I am writing the following to make sure that I know what I am doing.

We are 15 Canadian church persons among 320 chosen from Ecumenical partners from all continents. Canadians came from coast to coast, women and men, Lay and Ordained, young and not so young, activists, journalists, politicians, and a retired RCMP, and are from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, and United Churches.
But I have forgotten completely that we belong to different churches until now. When we have a common agenda, denominational affiliations become meaningless. Politically, we are Reform Party on the right to NDP on the left. That distinction also lost meaning in the face of daunting tasks in front of us, united in our solidarity with our sisters and brothers, who are determined to create a democratic nation with a minimum of violence.

We are all committed to accompany our South African brothers and sisters in their efforts to build a democratic country peacefully.
After all, it is their country and their mission. And it is they who are creating a new country, and who are in the forefront, often endangering their own lives. We are with South African Christian sisters and brothers to monitor the process of transition to a democratic state.

We monitor and support their efforts to educate people for democracy in their voters’ education programs, encourage and mediate in the situations of potentially violent situations. This calls for, sometime, standing between two groups of thousands of hostile crowds. Many churches created Peace Committees in their communities, trying to avert potential violent conflicts. We don’t know how many lives those brave church people saved in this program. I feel frustrated that the Press ignore those Good News.
I suppose it is our job, as Evangelists, to bring those Good News (Isn’t that what Gospel is called?) to the attention of people.

We will also observe the election process by being at the polling stations and at the vote counting centres. We will learn the skills to do that by the Independent Electoral Commission. This may not take place in Natal, because of the objections raised by the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP). (It is wrong to call them simply “Zulus”, as Canadian Press do, because there are many Zulus those do not belong to IFP, I am told.)

We will be divided into groups of four persons, no 2 persons from a same country in a group. I have been assigned to station in Durban, and will monitor the situations in Kwa-Zulu region, a stronghold of IFP. Sounds fun?
Tomorrow, Sunday, we will attend the Worship Services in Soweto, and attend Rally to commemorate the first anniversary of Chris Hani’s assassination.

Thank you for your prayers.

Johannesburg, April 10, 1994

CROSSING THE BARRIER

I crossed the barrier for the first time in twenty two years. At last, I saw what I had missed all those years on the other side. It was just ordinary airport scenes; carousels, customs, foreign exchange, etc. But I was almost in tears, as a flood of emotion overcame me. My fellow travellers asked me how I felt. I could not answer, in any language!!

In 1972, January 2, I was stopped at the passport control in the old terminal building of Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg. It looked as though they were waiting for me. All I had in my mind at the time was a thought of picking up my car and driving home to Lesotho 360 miles away, where Evelyn, who was seven, was waiting for me to prepared supper. Her mother had gone that morning to a conference in Botswana.

A security man came to the passport control officer, and asked me to follow him. He had my passport in his hand already. He took me to a room on the second floor, told me to wait, and went away. Three days of hell began.

No, nobody did anything to me. That was the worst part  Nobody showed up, except a frightened blackman in a blue coverall who delivered stale food from greasy-spoons.  I had no idea why I was held. I still don’t.

The thought of Evelyn alone in that house in Lesotho, not knowing where her dad was and wondering when she could eat supper and go to bed, drove me crazy. There was nothing to read, listen, nor write with. The door, of course was locked.  The only window, which could not open, was facing another brick wall.

Ingredients of hell are the situations where you have absolutely no control nor knowledge of you own future. I would have said anything to anybody just to get out. I was an easy torture victim. Of course, I could not sleep during those 3 days, until the same security man came to give me a piece of paper ordering me get out of the Republic of South Africa in 6 hours.

Since then, of some friends Movement of South Africa, a few were killed under mysterious circumstances or murdered. Tiro, Mohapi, Biko, Turner, Roza, etc. One man, whom I though to  be a trusted friend turned out to be a spy for  the police, Craig Williamson.

Many South African friends asked me, not knowing anything about those 3 days in 1972, when I would come to visit them. I answered, “When freedom comes to your country.” Now I am here. It is a miracle.

Johannesburg, April 12, 1994

RUMOURS OF WAR

As we drove into Kwa Zulu/ Natal, after a few hours of drive, my travelling companion from Belgium observed, “It looks so normal.  I can not believe it!!” He expected armoured vehicles allover the country, perhaps bullets flying, having to duck a few times.  He could not believe how many cars there were on the road. No check points nor curfew at midnight. I am sure that there are places where you find them. But perception of danger in Natal was so prevalent that it was blown out of proportion.

In fact, one Canadian withdrew from the program when he discovered that he was assigned to Natal. His wife said to him on the phone, “Natal? You are not going, not on my life!!” Why do we continue to believe that CNN tells absolute truth? He could not believe in the guarantee given by the South African sisters and brothers about our safety. What a pity!!

Of course, there is a serious problem in Kwa Zulu/Natal. People are being killed everyday. Houses were burned. It is not, however, so called “Black on Black” tribal conflict as our media put it. It is a conflict between the followers of two political parties, combined with old feuds of many years. Of course, there are certain places we do not go. There is State of Emergency in force and Natal is under military control. It is serious. Unless this impasse is resolved, credibility of the election will be diminished. I am not minimizing the danger that exists nor the seriousness of the problem.

I believe, however, that we have to look at the situation in perspective. And avoid seeing the South African situation more serious than what actually is. More importantly we must realize that, by exaggerating the problem like sensation loving media do, we are not giving due credits to those courageous South Africans who worked so very hard to reach this point in their history. The country is on the verge of actually moving into a Democratic society. It is like a miracle, for those like me who watched the struggle for freedom for decades.

Just before I left Canada, in a peaceful street of Ottawa, a British engineer was shot to death for no reason by a group of teenagers. A month before, a couple of Japanese students were shot in Los Angeles. And President Clinton had to apologize Japan for this senseless killing. How many foreign tourists were targeted and killed in Miami? On the other hand, how many foreign observers were killed in Kwa Zulu? Zero!! Was any of the candidates in South African election assassinated like Robert Kennedy or Colosio in Mexico was? We had to buy an extra War Coverage in our travel insurance to come here. Why are not all those who go to Miami required War Coverage?

We foreigners complain about inefficient infrastructure in South Africa, like telephone service, banking system, bureaucratic organizations. We forget that South Africa was let behind because of the sanction we imposed. We prohibited them to buy new management systems and technology.

We must be more objective and give due credits to South Africans.  Yes, there are so many problems. However, in the face of a huge task before them, what Independent Electoral Commission and Transitional Executive Council have achieved in such a short time is nothing less than unprecedented. I don’t think the bureaucracies in Canada would accept to implement such a huge amount of tasks in the time given to the South Africans. I wouldn’t, and I am an experienced bureaucrat.

Changes in the attitudes towards other racial groups, to me, seems almost surreal compared to the times I remember, coming from more and more racialistic society in Canada. Black preachers in Soweto speaking about forgiveness after so many deaths and suffering, probably will be laughed at in the similar situation in our more and more litigious society. You may call it ‘being realistic’ . If so, what should we call senseless racist things we sometimes do in a democratic and free Canada? Stupidity?

The most important lesson I learned in this type of trip is how much our Christian partners value our solidarity and bend backward to guarantee our safety. In my days in Ecumenical work, I have been a guest of the partner churches in many Civil War situations.  I have been to Angola, Ethiopia, Gaza and West Bank, Mozambique, Lebanon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe during civil strife. When I followed the advise of my host partners, I never felt that I was in danger, even at the height of Israeli/Lebanon War of 1982 in Beirut. I was mugged and robbed when I did not, in Dar es Salaam and in New York City.

So I cry with the widow of a man who was hacked to death in her burned down home, admire the courage of those Peacemakers who stood between warring groups, and enjoy the Sun of this beautiful city of Durban. I trust and follow the advise of our coordinator, a Baptist minister whose church recently was burned to the ground.  He hold no grudge against whoever did it, and work for the Peace that only can build the new South Africa. I feel safe.

Tad Mitsui
Durban, April 13, 1994

A BORING CANADIAN

A group of 21 people coming from 21 countries are staying in this beautiful former convent “Glenmore”, divided into five groups to monitor Peace process in and around Durban. We are also expected to observe the election process on 26,27, and 28 April.

Our groups are running around allover the place, mainly in Kwa Zulu, attending political meetings, looking at mainly the aftermath of violent incidents, and learning to observe the polling stations. All exciting stuff. There will be “Jesus Peace Rally” on Sunday in the city stadium, to show the unity of all Christians for peace.
Tens of thousands are expected to attend.

But here I am, stuck in the office looking after communication by E-Mail and FAX, and by telephone and walkie-talkies, summarizing reports from the groups, and getting messages. My wife and friends should be pleased to know that I am safe, because I am bored to death in the office.

How have I got here? Don’t laugh. Because of my (alleged) ability in English. And also, (don’t laugh, David Shearman) because I am the only one in the group who has handled E-Mail. Yes, it did take two days to fix a FAX machine. Yes, after 3 days of struggle, I did get to Johannesburg by E-Mail programme called “Co/Session”.  I finally figured it out. I am beginning to realize that this sort of doing boring things may be the lot Canadians are destined to.
Honest but boring broker.

My good friend, Jim Hodgson has been stuck in Johannesburg, taking charge of Communication in Khotso House for the Ecumenical Monitoring Program National Office. Sure, he is an excellent journalist, but stuck in Johannesburg? I also know that a few other Canadians are assigned to the similar kind of job, like mine, in other parts of the country.

Today, a young German came back completely frustrated, because his group missed all the important but tragic events. He wanted to bypass our local co-ordinators to plan the group’s movement, so that he could be where action is when it happens. Fortunatelyanother German, a slightly older and wiser man, persuaded him to believe that this is South Africans’ show, not the Europeans.

In the meantime, killings go on in Natal. 7 Voters’ Education worker who were distributing pamphlets were shot and hacked to death. It is tragic. But it is coming to be clear that who are for democracy and freedom, and who are not.

There was a live TV debate between Mandela and de Klerk last night.  White papers claimed de Klerk’s victory, and the black paper claimed otherwise. So what’s new? I am glad that even in South Africa, a banality show called ‘election’ has come into town. Does that mean also democracy is coming? I hope so.

 Tad Mitsui
Durban, April 15, 1994

JESUS PEACE RALLY

There were approximately 40,000 people Evangelism attending, about 113 white. It was organized by African Enterprise, a Billy Graham type of an Organization for Evangelism, based in Pietermaritzburg.
All the mainline church leaders of Durban endorsed it and were present. And we were encouraged to attend and show our solidarity.  The leaders of all political parties also endorsed the event.

I saw hardly any police force around the Stadium, which was quite remarkable in the Province which is in the State of Emergency and where large meetings and demonstrations were not allowed without permit. It is remarkable in a country where the government used to even ban the church services sometimes and bombed the headquarters of the Council of Churches. It seems that the authority at last realized that the church could be a force to help bring about peace.

Another remarkable thing about this rally was that it was run very much in the style of Evangelical meeting, even of Fundamentalist gathering. A Belgian Roman Catholic Priest sitting beside me looked stunned watching a spectacle he had never seen, except on the American Tele-Evangelists’ program. It was very much like that. Shouting preachers, spontaneous Amen’s and Halleluyah’s, “Thank you sweet Jesus”‘s. Raising hands, dancing with choir, even speaking in tongues.

What was different from what we know as Evangelical meeting was that the content of message was Justice and Peace like that of the United Church. We were asking God for forgiveness of the sins of Apartheid in which many participated by commission or omission, by trampling on the sisters and brothers in Christ. We asked God’s help to be an instrument of His peace so that killing would stop.  Those are the kind of prayers that are not normally heard in the North American Evangelical meetings. As though to say that the prayer included action, many Peace Monitors from the Peace Committees were very much present.

Today’s rally reminded me that Evangelicals do not have to be conservative and right wing politically, like they normally are in North America. We forget the fact that Martin Luther King was a Southern Baptist, spoke very much in a style of an Evangelical preacher. None of our local coordinators is from so-called mainline churches. Zion Pentecostal Church, etc. Our own coordinator would be the closest to a mainline church by being a conservative Baptist. I remember a Zimbabwean friend of mine told me one time about many of guerrilla fighters went out to fight after all night prayer meetings during the liberation war of that country.
I also remember that during my days of the University Christian Movement of South Africa, some of the most fiery revolutionaries were from African Independent Churches, very much in the tradition of Pentecostal churches or of African Spirituality. In fact, one of the most prominent Anti-Apartheid Christians, Beyers Naude was one of the strongest supporters of the African Independent Churches, and helped to start their Theological School.

Perhaps, we should change our mind about Evangelicals. They can remain theologically conservative, but can also be strong on social messages of the Gospel.

Incidentally, I ran into an old acquaintance of mine at the rally, a former PC MP, Rev. Walter McLean. He was also here as a part of the Commonwealth Observer Team. Walter was the Chair of the Commission on World Concerns at the Canadian Council of Churches, when I was the Executive Secretary of the Commission. It was good to see him in a good shape. He said he recovered, or did he even run? What was interesting was that he is now working out of Bob Rae’s office keeping his eye on African and UN matters for the Province of Ontario. Bob Rae? What’s going on? Walter was a Red Tory, but working with Bob Rae, NDP?

But why not. If the Evangelicals can pray together with me to heal the nation, why not Bob Rae, NDP with Walter McLean, PC.
 
Tad Mitsui
King’s Park Football Field, Durban, April 17, 1994

WE SHOULD KNOW BETTER
-that we don’t know, really-

If, God forbid, our planet should be destroyed because of our stupidity, it will probably be the collective fault of Europeans, Japanese, and North Americans. Certainly not the fault of Africans. Just as much as we are capable of producing weapons which can destroy the earth several time over, our efficiency and good organizations can do the same through other ways, through destruction of ecology, very efficiently.

Then, what in heaven’s name we think we know better to run South African election? I confess that I do get irritated by different ways our African colleagues run things. But I get very angry when some of us Europeans and North Americans think that we know better than Africans because of our efficiency and organization. We must remember time and again that it was African blood spilt in the struggle for liberation that brought about finally this freedom, not our hesitant solidarity actions from outside, though it helped.
I always remind myself of the fact that the worst thing happened to foreigners like me was to be kicked out. I was safe. But my friends paid for what we professed together with their lives. My words were cheap. Their words were their lives. Some of them, though much small in number, were also whites. Those whites were traitors to their class. Beyers Naude, Ruth First, Rick Turner, etc. I admire them very much.

Last night, on the day the Inkhata Freedom Party decided to participate in the election, we decided to invite my old friend, Jeff Guy to tell us about the history of Zulu. He and I lived on the same Campus for several years, he teaching Zulu history, and I theology. I did not know he returned from exile and was teaching here at the University of Natal. We chuckled watching Desmond Tutu, who was also a lecturer in the same Campus, commenting on Buthelezi’s decision on the TV news, remembering good old days.

We were so happy to know about Rolland Hunter’s release from the prison. Rolland was a few years older that Evelyn. She was six when we started to live on the University Campus. His dad was Professor in Education. He came to stay with us in Geneva, when he was bumming around Europe trying to avoid military service. He came back to South Africa, probably money running out, and was drafted into the army. It did not take very long for him to be caught giving military secret to ANC, tried for high treason, and sentenced for many years.

They risked their lives and some whites also.

So what right do we have, criticizing the way this election is run when they are doing their best under incredibly difficult circumstances. And some of us have nerve to criticize the way this monitoring exercise is run. Especially we don’t seem to understand the way they run things by consensus. We think it is waste of time
and very disorganized and inefficient. Just as I predicted, getting along with my colleagues from the Northern countries is more difficult problem for me, than the alleged danger due to conflict or the challenge of gaining trust of people.

It is interesting, isn’t it, the person, who remained after Kissinger and Callaghan and co.- so-called International Mediation Team left, and helped to bring about the accord between ANC, IFP, and the Nationalist Government was a Kenyan? Yes, there was a dancing on the street last night. Many people including us feel a little bit safer. People who were most happy were those involved in the Peace Committees. One of us saw them crying with joy. They deserve to be rewarded. They are risking their lives for peace.

In the same token, I believe that the South African Churches are today the most credible Church in the world, not because many people go to church, that is true too, but because what they risked for the sake of Justice and Peace. I am here to witness their costly faithfulness and their joy. I am grateful that theyallowed me to be with them to share their anxiety and joy.

I feel like a passer-by watching that Man on the tree on the hill.

Tad Mitsui
 Durban, April 20, 1994

MANDELA AND ARAFAT

I am happy being here, doing what I am doing at this crucial time in the history of South Africa, perhaps of the world. I get frustrated by arrogance of us outsiders, but that is a minor problem, because this is definitely a South African show, and they are in charge.

However, one big frustration I have is: I can not find out anywhere in South Africa to tell me what’s going on in Palestine.
Of course, they are busy, putting all their energy into this historical development. They have no time to worry about other people’s problem.

But it is a pity that there is no stronger tie with the Palestinian people’s struggle than there is now. No TV nor any Paper have reported anything about the crucial event that mayor may not have taken place last week, withdrawal of Israeli Defence Force from Jericho and Gaza. As a person, who followed Palestinian and South African issues passionately for a long time, this is a funny place to be. I am right in the middle of a crucial time in one country, and yet I have absolutely no access to the news about the other.
As a person who went to Gaza and West Bank for a honey-moon during the height of Intifada, it is frustrating. My wife wanted to see the country, which was so much part of me.

After living in Southern Africa for nearly 8 years, and working furthermore 4 years in Geneva on the issues related to Apartheid, I went back to Canada. I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches, where I discovered that I had to work as a liaison with the Palestine Program. I walked into the work with a bit of trepidation, because at the time Palestinians to me were still  “terrorists”. But quickly, after attending only one meeting in Gaza, I could understand the situation much better.

It was like the ANC was called a terrorist organization in Canada only until a little while ago. I was able to see how PLO mistakenly became a terrorist. I could apply the same analytical skills I acquired in Southern Africa to find out what’s going on, economically, politically, and socially in both situations. It was not primarily the question of racism as such. Racism was a tool.
And racism was not as strongly applied in Israeli/Palestinian situation. It was easy for me to follow 2 issues simultaneously.

But it was very difficult to persuade some of my Church friends to understand that both issues belong to the same category. It may have to do with guilt towards the Jewish people. It was difficult for my friends to understand it as the problem of right wing nationalism. Anti-Likud government policy is not antisemitism. It is a simply logic, like I would never have identified myself with Mr. Mulroney’s government though I am a passionately loyal Canadian. But they, as I previously, could not separate government from people.

Some white South Africans suffered from the same mistaken attitude. Clive Nettleton, who ran an excellent popular education program on a News Paper called “The World” in Soweto, got himself banned together with the News Paper itself. He came out into exile and succeeded me in Geneva. But he had to leave the job, because of the pressure from people who would not tolerate a white South African on the job. Problem with racism is that it blinds us from seeing real issues and real people. And it cut both ways.
It victimizes black and white.

I do believe that Palestinian and South African issues belong to the same category. Those both people can strengthen their positions if they form an alliance of solidarity. The crowing moment was when Mr. Mandela and Mr. Arafat hugging each other, after Mr. Mandela was released from Prison and visited many countries, including Egypt where he ran into Yasir Arafat. And I wondered then why I was stupid enough to think, at one time, that they were terrorists, the extended hands of USSR.

There are many Christian among the PLO leadership, likewise in the ANC. Think of Albert Lithuli, one of the prominent former leaders of the ANC, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a dedicated Christian. Allan Boesak, Sibusiso Bhengu – former Director of Studies in the Lutheran World Federation, and many other prominent Christians are running on the ANC ticket, both Nationally and Provincially. An ANC Rally I attended today began with a Christian prayer.

One unexpected spin-off of the end of cold war is that Israel and South Africa no longer are needed as the anti-Communism frontiers. Thus the West could afford to be more vigorous in being moralistic and principled. So Apartheid had to come to an end, and Israeli occupation of Palestinian land had to come to an end. They became too costly for the west to help maintain. I am sure media hype about those 2 countries will end soon – maybe within five years at the very most, like they dropped Namibia and Zimbabwe as boring subjects.

Then the solidarity between Palestinians and South Africans become a very important bond in terms of their survival, and perhaps for the sake of lessons to the world.” During the long struggle for liberation and suffering, they forged themselves to be politically sophisticated peoples, patient peoples, and most importantly forgiving peoples. It never ceases to amaze me that after equally long struggle and suffering, there was not a single execution of former white enemy in Namibia and Zimbabwe. And I am sure that the history will be repeated in South Africa and Palestine.

Shouldn’t some Europeans learn from this, like in Ireland and in Balkans – Bosnia’?

Tad Mitsui
Durban, 22 April, 1994

INSTRUMENT OF THY PEACE

Today, we put on a different cap, and an arm-band, to indicate that we are accredited Election Observers for Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). But many of us prefer to continue to wear the light blue cap and jacket, showing that we are volunteers for Ecumenical Monitoring Program in South Africa (EMPSA.). Now that we have been here as EMPSA for three three weeks, we know that we have more credibility than any governrnental organizatior, including UN, and feel safer in this blue outfit. Isn’t it an irony that today 2 of the most respected and credible persons in South Africa are Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, one former convict and an Old Testament scholar who spoke like a prophet, a voice in the wilderness?  They were lone voices for Peace and Justice when such ideas were outlawed.  We feel honoured to be wearing this blue, this Ecumenical blue.

On Sunday, we saw the power of an instrument of peace, which the churches in 5outh Africa had become. It was stronger than the guns carried by company of South African Defence Force (SADF) soldiers.

We ran into a group of refugees returning to their homes, those who were afraid of repeated attacks by the opposing party members and village thugs. We noticed a company of SADF , escorting those people, obviously happy returning home now that peace seemed to have come, dancing and toi-toyjng (Special South African way of marching with accompanying noises.) We decided to abandon the idea of going to a political rally and to follow them. It was a day-off for me at the office, and I decided to accompany one of the teams in their excursion to the field. It was a real privilege to experience what my colleagues experienced everyday.

As they approached the home village, there was a band of men with sticks and some guns waiting for this group of refugees. They did not want a large number of members belonging to the other party to return. We ended up sandwiched between two hostile groups, one ready to assault the refugees who came back to their homes. SADF encircled those groups Including us in their armoured vehicles. I wonder what the soldiers could have done, if the attackers decided to advance on the refugees or on us.

Our co-ordinator, who was the only one who spoke Zulu among us, decided to speak to the leaders of both groups. A mini shuttle diplomacy began, while four of us stood between them.  After a few minutes later, a soldier, who was also a Zulu speaker decided to join the negotiation. Chanting, dancing, singing became louder and more ominous.

It was like for ever. After about an hour, singing died down, and would-have-been attackers began to leave in twos and threes, leaving only the tough guys – village thugs behind. Then SADF decided to move in. Thugs turned out to be a bunch of cowards and ran away. The refugees went home singing and dancing. We were so very proud of our Co-ordinator.  I wonder now how he is going to face the same crowd after we, foreigners, leave. We will be safe back in Canada or in Germany, but what about him who lives here?

I believe that now IFP is participating in the election, in Kwa Zulu / Natal violence occurs much less frequently. I hope that I have not spoken too early. Our worry now is the bomb, exploding in urban centres. A Right wing element of Afrikaners phoned in to claim responsibility. They have vowed to fight on to protect what they believe to be their right’.’ to remain the master of their own land. They are demanding their own white state. They pledged never to live in a country ruled by ANC. So far, 14 bombs have exploded mainly in the urban areas, causing about 20 deaths and many more casualties. [all deaths were attributed to only 2 bomb incidents – SJ.)

The teams have phoned in to report that there were delays in opening the Votjng Stations, boxes have not arrived, police officers are late, etc. Today is sort of like a dry run, allowing elderly people, those who are in hospitals, and prisoners to vote helped by the institutions.  Tearns reported that some elderly persons have been waiting in front of the Voting Stations since 5:00 a.m. It seems to be starting OK. Bombs SO far have not intimidated the people around here. Good sign! It is probable that black people are feeling safe to vote, but not the whites in urban centres.

The churches are forefront in Voter Education. Evensong I went to in an Anglican church, turned out to be a session on Voting. Churches officially fought hard for this day to happen.  Of course, like in the case of many other causes, not all the churches and congregations were’ as keen on this as the others. However, generally speaking, the South African Churches were’ forefront of struggle for freedom for all peoples. And they are on the way to achieving that goal. They paid dearly, but they won this time around.

At the end of Christendom, when the Churches are no longer a significant factor in the society as it used to be in the West, there is one church in the world, which risked itself for the sake of Justice and Peace, stands out. And I am in their midst. We are riding on their coattai1s, sharing their moment of glory. They are not afraid to stand in between warring factjons stopping the fight, like our co-ordinator I an ordinary local Baptist pastor. I am grateful for the privilege.

I am sitting here in the communication centre alone/ in between reports and requests for action coming In from mobile telephones that the teams carry, I am writing this riot being able to stop tears of joy. I am so happy to be here.

Tad Mitsui/ Durban, 25 April, 1994

ERA OF HOPE

At midnight, 26 April, 1994, the old South African flag came down and the new flag went up, which is a combination of old colours of Dutch Orange and British Blue with African Green, Black, and Yellow. I rather like it not just colour combination but the idea of it.

The first person who walked into a Voting Station in Inanda was Mr. Nelson Mandela, followed by one of our coordinators, Rev. April Mbambo, pastor of Pentecostal Zion Church. As he was coming out of the station Mr. Mandela declared to a reporter, “We have moved from the era of pessimism to the era of hope in South Africa.”

Almost at the same time in Cape Town, Desmond Tutu shouted “yippie!” and walked into a voting station in his usual purple Archbishop’s cassock. He then proceeded to the voting booth with a walk almost like a dance with his typical twinkle in his eyes saying, “Wonderful, wonderful”.

But fifteen minutes after the opening of the voting stations, a powerful car bomb exploded at Jan Smuts Airport Departure level parking lot, shattering all the glasses of the International Departure lounge, miraculously injuring only 17 people. This was a desperate attempt of the white right wing extremists to scare people away from the voting booths. Were they successful? No way.
In fact, enormous logistics problems were caused because an unexpectedly large number of people turned up to vote. Some people waited in front of the station since 3:00 a.m. Line-ups in some places were several kilometres long.

There were happy beaming faces, thousands of them waiting hours on end under he hot sun. Temperature was about 28, South African sun is strong, can kill you if you have no cover on your head. Despite this, people were ecstatic voting for the first time in their lives. One 91 old man died of exhaustion while on a queue, too much excitement, too much sun. Our man who reported this to me said, the old man didn’t mind. He was almost there. He must have voted in his dying moment.

There were enormous administrative and logistic problems, short of ballot papers, IFF stickers (because IFF agreed to join in the election only a week before the election day, the idea of putting stickers on printed ballots was agreed upon.), boxes arrived late, etc. But to my opinion, those were the minor problems compared to the almost miraculous job that Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) achieved in such a short time to prepare for this election.

Imagine, 6/7 of population never voted before thus must be catered for in a few months. Nobody knew how many would vote where.  Anyone can vote anywhere so long as one can produce a legitimate ID. Virtually tens of thousands of Electoral Officers had to be trained. And suddenly a week ago as one major party decided to join in the process, a whole new set of infrastructure had to be created in six days. A nightmare for bureaucrats. No wonder there were shortages everywhere. I think it is grossly unfair to blame IEC, like the press are doing.

Because of these problems, one party, a spoiler, is threatening to pullout. And I say also, “Not fair.” Give freedom a chance.  Besides, there are other means to address grievances, if there is any allegation of any improper process. Maybe, the spoiler does not want real democracy.

It was an extraordinary day.  And it is to be continued tomorrow.

I once worked with Don Ray, former General Secretary of the General Council. He has a Military Cross for flying something like 36 bombing missions during the last War in Europe. But he never saw anything of the war, as he was the navigator. He told me that once he walked into a tiny cubicle behind the pilots, he never came out until the aircraft landed back in the Home Base. But he knew exactly where the plane was all the time. He felt the plane trembled, every time a flak exploded nearby. I feel like that sitting in the Communication Centre for Durban EMPSA office, receiving minute by minute report through mobile telephones from the teams in the field, peeking into the TV room from time to time.
But I am right in the middle of action. It is a funny feeling. Do you remember Radar O’Reiley in the TV Series “M.A.S.H.”?

Tad Mitsui, Durban, 27 April, 1994

Letters from South Africa

LETTERS FROM SOUTH AFRICA

A JOURNAL OF AN ELECTION OBSERVER, April, 1994

Tad Mitsui was appointed to be a member of the Ecumenical Monitoring Program for South Africa (EMPSA) in 1994.  It was a program organized by the World Council of Churches to help the South African Council of Churches, which was an official member of the Independent Electoral Commission for the first democratic general election in South Africa involving the total population.

The following are the journal he wrote in Johannesburg and Durban.

WHO ARE WE?  AND WHAT ARE WE EXPECTED TO DO?
By Tad Mitsui

We are staying at a hotel in Johannesburg for a week, being briefed about the tasks ahead of us in the World Council of Churces sponsored Ecumenical Monitoring Program in South African. I am writing the following to make sure that I know what I am doing.

We are 15 Canadian church persons among 320 chosen from Ecumenical partners from all continents. Canadians came from coast to coast, women and men, Lay and Ordained, young and not so young, activists, journalists, politicians, and a retired RCMP, and are from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, and United Churches.
But I have forgotten completely that we belong to different churches until now. When we have a common agenda, denominational affiliations become meaningless. Politically, we are Reform Party on the right to NDP on the left. That distinction also lost meaning in the face of daunting tasks in front of us, united in our solidarity with our sisters and brothers, who are determined to create a democratic nation with a minimum of violence.

We are all committed to accompany our South African brothers and sisters in their efforts to build a democratic country peacefully.
After all, it is their country and their mission. And it is they who are creating a new country, and who are in the forefront, often endangering their own lives. We are with South African Christian sisters and brothers to monitor the process of transition to a democratic state.

We monitor and support their efforts to educate people for democracy in their voters’ education programs, encourage and mediate in the situations of potentially violent situations. This calls for, sometime, standing between two groups of thousands of hostile crowds. Many churches created Peace Committees in their communities, trying to avert potential violent conflicts. We don’t know how many lives those brave church people saved in this program. I feel frustrated that the Press ignore those Good News.
I suppose it is our job, as Evangelists, to bring those Good News (Isn’t that what Gospel is called?) to the attention of people.

We will also observe the election process by being at the polling stations and at the vote counting centres. We will learn the skills to do that by the Independent Electoral Commission. This may not take place in Natal, because of the objections raised by the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP). (It is wrong to call them simply “Zulus”, as Canadian Press do, because there are many Zulus those do not belong to IFP, I am told.)

We will be divided into groups of four persons, no 2 persons from a same country in a group. I have been assigned to station in Durban, and will monitor the situations in Kwa-Zulu region, a stronghold of IFP. Sounds fun?

Tomorrow, Sunday, we will attend the Worship Services in Soweto, and attend Rally to commemorate the first anniversary of Chris Hani’s assassination.

Thank you for your prayers.

Johannesburg, April 10, 1994

CROSSING THE BARRIER

I crossed the barrier for the first time in twenty two years. At last, I saw what I had missed all those years on the other side. It was just ordinary airport scenes; carousels, customs, foreign exchange, etc. But I was almost in tears, as a flood of emotion overcame me. My fellow travellers asked me how I felt. I could not answer, in any language!!

In 1972, January 2, I was stopped at the passport control in the old terminal building of Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg. It looked as though they were waiting for me. All I had in my mind at the time was a thought of picking up my car and driving home to Lesotho 360 miles away, where Evelyn, who was seven, was waiting for me to prepared supper. Her mother had gone that morning to a conference in Botswana.

A security man came to the passport control officer, and asked me to follow him. He had my passport in his hand already. He took me to a room on the second floor, told me to wait, and went away. Three days of hell began.

No, nobody did anything to me. That was the worst part  Nobody showed up, except a frightened blackman in a blue coverall who delivered stale food from greasy-spoons.  I had no idea why I was held. I still don’t.

The thought of Evelyn alone in that house in Lesotho, not knowing where her dad was and wondering when she could eat supper and go to bed, drove me crazy. There was nothing to read, listen, nor write with. The door, of course was locked.  The only window, which could not open, was facing another brick wall.

Ingredients of hell are the situations where you have absolutely no control nor knowledge of you own future. I would have said anything to anybody just to get out. I was an easy torture victim. Of course, I could not sleep during those 3 days, until the same security man came to give me a piece of paper ordering me get out of the Republic of South Africa in 6 hours.

Since then, of some friends Movement of South Africa, a few were killed under mysterious circumstances or murdered. Tiro, Mohapi, Biko, Turner, Roza, etc. One man, whom I though to  be a trusted friend turned out to be a spy for  the police, Craig Williamson.

Many South African friends asked me, not knowing anything about those 3 days in 1972, when I would come to visit them. I answered, “When freedom comes to your country.” Now I am here. It is a miracle.

Johannesburg, April 12, 1994

RUMOURS OF WAR

As we drove into Kwa Zulu/ Natal, after a few hours of drive, my travelling companion from Belgium observed, “It looks so normal.  I can not believe it!!” He expected armoured vehicles allover the country, perhaps bullets flying, having to duck a few times.  He could not believe how many cars there were on the road. No check points nor curfew at midnight. I am sure that there are places where you find them. But perception of danger in Natal was so prevalent that it was blown out of proportion.

In fact, one Canadian withdrew from the program when he discovered that he was assigned to Natal. His wife said to him on the phone, “Natal? You are not going, not on my life!!” Why do we continue to believe that CNN tells absolute truth? He could not believe in the guarantee given by the South African sisters and brothers about our safety. What a pity!!

Of course, there is a serious problem in Kwa Zulu/Natal. People are being killed everyday. Houses were burned. It is not, however, so called “Black on Black” tribal conflict as our media put it. It is a conflict between the followers of two political parties, combined with old feuds of many years. Of course, there are certain places we do not go. There is State of Emergency in force and Natal is under military control. It is serious. Unless this impasse is resolved, credibility of the election will be diminished. I am not minimizing the danger that exists nor the seriousness of the problem.

I believe, however, that we have to look at the situation in perspective. And avoid seeing the South African situation more serious than what actually is. More importantly we must realize that, by exaggerating the problem like sensation loving media do, we are not giving due credits to those courageous South Africans who worked so very hard to reach this point in their history. The country is on the verge of actually moving into a Democratic society. It is like a miracle, for those like me who watched the struggle for freedom for decades.

Just before I left Canada, in a peaceful street of Ottawa, a British engineer was shot to death for no reason by a group of teenagers. A month before, a couple of Japanese students were shot in Los Angeles. And President Clinton had to apologize Japan for this senseless killing. How many foreign tourists were targeted and killed in Miami? On the other hand, how many foreign observers were killed in Kwa Zulu? Zero!! Was any of the candidates in South African election assassinated like Robert Kennedy or Colosio in Mexico was? We had to buy an extra War Coverage in our travel insurance to come here. Why are not all those who go to Miami required War Coverage?

We foreigners complain about inefficient infrastructure in South Africa, like telephone service, banking system, bureaucratic organizations. We forget that South Africa was let behind because of the sanction we imposed. We prohibited them to buy new management systems and technology.

We must be more objective and give due credits to South Africans.  Yes, there are so many problems. However, in the face of a huge task before them, what Independent Electoral Commission and Transitional Executive Council have achieved in such a short time is nothing less than unprecedented. I don’t think the bureaucracies in Canada would accept to implement such a huge amount of tasks in the time given to the South Africans. I wouldn’t, and I am an experienced bureaucrat.

Changes in the attitudes towards other racial groups, to me, seems almost surreal compared to the times I remember, coming from more and more racialistic society in Canada. Black preachers in Soweto speaking about forgiveness after so many deaths and suffering, probably will be laughed at in the similar situation in our more and more litigious society. You may call it ‘being realistic’ . If so, what should we call senseless racist things we sometimes do in a democratic and free Canada? Stupidity?

The most important lesson I learned in this type of trip is how much our Christian partners value our solidarity and bend backward to guarantee our safety. In my days in Ecumenical work, I have been a guest of the partner churches in many Civil War situations.  I have been to Angola, Ethiopia, Gaza and West Bank, Mozambique, Lebanon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe during civil strife. When I followed the advise of my host partners, I never felt that I was in danger, even at the height of Israeli/Lebanon War of 1982 in Beirut. I was mugged and robbed when I did not, in Dar es Salaam and in New York City.

So I cry with the widow of a man who was hacked to death in her burned down home, admire the courage of those Peacemakers who stood between warring groups, and enjoy the Sun of this beautiful city of Durban. I trust and follow the advise of our coordinator, a Baptist minister whose church recently was burned to the ground.  He hold no grudge against whoever did it, and work for the Peace that only can build the new South Africa. I feel safe.

Tad Mitsui
Durban, April 13, 1994

A BORING CANADIAN

A group of 21 people coming from 21 countries are staying in this beautiful former convent “Glenmore”, divided into five groups to monitor Peace process in and around Durban. We are also expected to observe the election process on 26,27, and 28 April.

Our groups are running around allover the place, mainly in Kwa Zulu, attending political meetings, looking at mainly the aftermath of violent incidents, and learning to observe the polling stations. All exciting stuff. There will be “Jesus Peace Rally” on Sunday in the city stadium, to show the unity of all Christians for peace.
Tens of thousands are expected to attend.

But here I am, stuck in the office looking after communication by E-Mail and FAX, and by telephone and walkie-talkies, summarizing reports from the groups, and getting messages. My wife and friends should be pleased to know that I am safe, because I am bored to death in the office.

How have I got here? Don’t laugh. Because of my (alleged) ability in English. And also, (don’t laugh, David Shearman) because I am the only one in the group who has handled E-Mail. Yes, it did take two days to fix a FAX machine. Yes, after 3 days of struggle, I did get to Johannesburg by E-Mail programme called “Co/Session”.  I finally figured it out. I am beginning to realize that this sort of doing boring things may be the lot Canadians are destined to.
Honest but boring broker.

My good friend, Jim Hodgson has been stuck in Johannesburg, taking charge of Communication in Khotso House for the Ecumenical Monitoring Program National Office. Sure, he is an excellent journalist, but stuck in Johannesburg? I also know that a few other Canadians are assigned to the similar kind of job, like mine, in other parts of the country.

Today, a young German came back completely frustrated, because his group missed all the important but tragic events. He wanted to bypass our local co-ordinators to plan the group’s movement, so that he could be where action is when it happens. Fortunatelyanother German, a slightly older and wiser man, persuaded him to believe that this is South Africans’ show, not the Europeans.

In the meantime, killings go on in Natal. 7 Voters’ Education worker who were distributing pamphlets were shot and hacked to death. It is tragic. But it is coming to be clear that who are for democracy and freedom, and who are not.

There was a live TV debate between Mandela and de Klerk last night.  White papers claimed de Klerk’s victory, and the black paper claimed otherwise. So what’s new? I am glad that even in South Africa, a banality show called ‘election’ has come into town. Does that mean also democracy is coming? I hope so.

Tad Mitsui
Durban, April 15, 1994

JESUS PEACE RALLY

There were approximately 40,000 people Evangelism attending, about 113 white. It was organized by African Enterprise, a Billy Graham type of an Organization for Evangelism, based in Pietermaritzburg.
All the mainline church leaders of Durban endorsed it and were present. And we were encouraged to attend and show our solidarity.  The leaders of all political parties also endorsed the event.

I saw hardly any police force around the Stadium, which was quite remarkable in the Province which is in the State of Emergency and where large meetings and demonstrations were not allowed without permit. It is remarkable in a country where the government used to even ban the church services sometimes and bombed the headquarters of the Council of Churches. It seems that the authority at last realized that the church could be a force to help bring about peace.

Another remarkable thing about this rally was that it was run very much in the style of Evangelical meeting, even of Fundamentalist gathering. A Belgian Roman Catholic Priest sitting beside me looked stunned watching a spectacle he had never seen, except on the American Tele-Evangelists’ program. It was very much like that. Shouting preachers, spontaneous Amen’s and Halleluyah’s, “Thank you sweet Jesus”‘s. Raising hands, dancing with choir, even speaking in tongues.

What was different from what we know as Evangelical meeting was that the content of message was Justice and Peace like that of the United Church. We were asking God for forgiveness of the sins of Apartheid in which many participated by commission or omission, by trampling on the sisters and brothers in Christ. We asked God’s help to be an instrument of His peace so that killing would stop.  Those are the kind of prayers that are not normally heard in the North American Evangelical meetings. As though to say that the prayer included action, many Peace Monitors from the Peace Committees were very much present.

Today’s rally reminded me that Evangelicals do not have to be conservative and right wing politically, like they normally are in North America. We forget the fact that Martin Luther King was a Southern Baptist, spoke very much in a style of an Evangelical preacher. None of our local coordinators is from so-called mainline churches. Zion Pentecostal Church, etc. Our own coordinator would be the closest to a mainline church by being a conservative Baptist. I remember a Zimbabwean friend of mine told me one time about many of guerrilla fighters went out to fight after all night prayer meetings during the liberation war of that country.
I also remember that during my days of the University Christian Movement of South Africa, some of the most fiery revolutionaries were from African Independent Churches, very much in the tradition of Pentecostal churches or of African Spirituality. In fact, one of the most prominent Anti-Apartheid Christians, Beyers Naude was one of the strongest supporters of the African Independent Churches, and helped to start their Theological School.

Perhaps, we should change our mind about Evangelicals. They can remain theologically conservative, but can also be strong on social messages of the Gospel.

Incidentally, I ran into an old acquaintance of mine at the rally, a former PC MP, Rev. Walter McLean. He was also here as a part of the Commonwealth Observer Team. Walter was the Chair of the Commission on World Concerns at the Canadian Council of Churches, when I was the Executive Secretary of the Commission. It was good to see him in a good shape. He said he recovered, or did he even run? What was interesting was that he is now working out of Bob Rae’s office keeping his eye on African and UN matters for the Province of Ontario. Bob Rae? What’s going on? Walter was a Red Tory, but working with Bob Rae, NDP?

But why not. If the Evangelicals can pray together with me to heal the nation, why not Bob Rae, NDP with Walter McLean, PC.

Tad Mitsui
King’s Park Football Field, Durban, April 17, 1994

WE SHOULD KNOW BETTER
-that we don’t know, really-

If, God forbid, our planet should be destroyed because of our stupidity, it will probably be the collective fault of Europeans, Japanese, and North Americans. Certainly not the fault of Africans. Just as much as we are capable of producing weapons which can destroy the earth several time over, our efficiency and good organizations can do the same through other ways, through destruction of ecology, very efficiently.

Then, what in heaven’s name we think we know better to run South African election? I confess that I do get irritated by different ways our African colleagues run things. But I get very angry when some of us Europeans and North Americans think that we know better than Africans because of our efficiency and organization. We must remember time and again that it was African blood spilt in the struggle for liberation that brought about finally this freedom, not our hesitant solidarity actions from outside, though it helped.
I always remind myself of the fact that the worst thing happened to foreigners like me was to be kicked out. I was safe. But my friends paid for what we professed together with their lives. My words were cheap. Their words were their lives. Some of them, though much small in number, were also whites. Those whites were traitors to their class. Beyers Naude, Ruth First, Rick Turner, etc. I admire them very much.

Last night, on the day the Inkhata Freedom Party decided to participate in the election, we decided to invite my old friend, Jeff Guy to tell us about the history of Zulu. He and I lived on the same Campus for several years, he teaching Zulu history, and I theology. I did not know he returned from exile and was teaching here at the University of Natal. We chuckled watching Desmond Tutu, who was also a lecturer in the same Campus, commenting on Buthelezi’s decision on the TV news, remembering good old days.

We were so happy to know about Rolland Hunter’s release from the prison. Rolland was a few years older that Evelyn. She was six when we started to live on the University Campus. His dad was Professor in Education. He came to stay with us in Geneva, when he was bumming around Europe trying to avoid military service. He came back to South Africa, probably money running out, and was drafted into the army. It did not take very long for him to be caught giving military secret to ANC, tried for high treason, and sentenced for many years.

They risked their lives and some whites also.

So what right do we have, criticizing the way this election is run when they are doing their best under incredibly difficult circumstances. And some of us have nerve to criticize the way this monitoring exercise is run. Especially we don’t seem to understand the way they run things by consensus. We think it is waste of time
and very disorganized and inefficient. Just as I predicted, getting along with my colleagues from the Northern countries is more difficult problem for me, than the alleged danger due to conflict or the challenge of gaining trust of people.

It is interesting, isn’t it, the person, who remained after Kissinger and Callaghan and co.- so-called International Mediation Team left, and helped to bring about the accord between ANC, IFP, and the Nationalist Government was a Kenyan? Yes, there was a dancing on the street last night. Many people including us feel a little bit safer. People who were most happy were those involved in the Peace Committees. One of us saw them crying with joy. They deserve to be rewarded. They are risking their lives for peace.

In the same token, I believe that the South African Churches are today the most credible Church in the world, not because many people go to church, that is true too, but because what they risked for the sake of Justice and Peace. I am here to witness their costly faithfulness and their joy. I am grateful that theyallowed me to be with them to share their anxiety and joy.

I feel like a passer-by watching that Man on the tree on the hill.

Tad Mitsui
Durban, April 20, 1994

MANDELA AND ARAFAT

I am happy being here, doing what I am doing at this crucial time in the history of South Africa, perhaps of the world. I get frustrated by arrogance of us outsiders, but that is a minor problem, because this is definitely a South African show, and they are in charge.

However, one big frustration I have is: I can not find out anywhere in South Africa to tell me what’s going on in Palestine.
Of course, they are busy, putting all their energy into this historical development. They have no time to worry about other people’s problem.

But it is a pity that there is no stronger tie with the Palestinian people’s struggle than there is now. No TV nor any Paper have reported anything about the crucial event that mayor may not have taken place last week, withdrawal of Israeli Defence Force from Jericho and Gaza. As a person, who followed Palestinian and South African issues passionately for a long time, this is a funny place to be. I am right in the middle of a crucial time in one country, and yet I have absolutely no access to the news about the other.
As a person who went to Gaza and West Bank for a honey-moon during the height of Intifada, it is frustrating. My wife wanted to see the country, which was so much part of me.

After living in Southern Africa for nearly 8 years, and working furthermore 4 years in Geneva on the issues related to Apartheid, I went back to Canada. I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches, where I discovered that I had to work as a liaison with the Palestine Program. I walked into the work with a bit of trepidation, because at the time Palestinians to me were still  “terrorists”. But quickly, after attending only one meeting in Gaza, I could understand the situation much better.

It was like the ANC was called a terrorist organization in Canada only until a little while ago. I was able to see how PLO mistakenly became a terrorist. I could apply the same analytical skills I acquired in Southern Africa to find out what’s going on, economically, politically, and socially in both situations. It was not primarily the question of racism as such. Racism was a tool.
And racism was not as strongly applied in Israeli/Palestinian situation. It was easy for me to follow 2 issues simultaneously.

But it was very difficult to persuade some of my Church friends to understand that both issues belong to the same category. It may have to do with guilt towards the Jewish people. It was difficult for my friends to understand it as the problem of right wing nationalism. Anti-Likud government policy is not antisemitism. It is a simply logic, like I would never have identified myself with Mr. Mulroney’s government though I am a passionately loyal Canadian. But they, as I previously, could not separate government from people.

Some white South Africans suffered from the same mistaken attitude. Clive Nettleton, who ran an excellent popular education program on a News Paper called “The World” in Soweto, got himself banned together with the News Paper itself. He came out into exile and succeeded me in Geneva. But he had to leave the job, because of the pressure from people who would not tolerate a white South African on the job. Problem with racism is that it blinds us from seeing real issues and real people. And it cut both ways.
It victimizes black and white.

I do believe that Palestinian and South African issues belong to the same category. Those both people can strengthen their positions if they form an alliance of solidarity. The crowing moment was when Mr. Mandela and Mr. Arafat hugging each other, after Mr. Mandela was released from Prison and visited many countries, including Egypt where he ran into Yasir Arafat. And I wondered then why I was stupid enough to think, at one time, that they were terrorists, the extended hands of USSR.

There are many Christian among the PLO leadership, likewise in the ANC. Think of Albert Lithuli, one of the prominent former leaders of the ANC, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and a dedicated Christian. Allan Boesak, Sibusiso Bhengu – former Director of Studies in the Lutheran World Federation, and many other prominent Christians are running on the ANC ticket, both Nationally and Provincially. An ANC Rally I attended today began with a Christian prayer.

One unexpected spin-off of the end of cold war is that Israel and South Africa no longer are needed as the anti-Communism frontiers. Thus the West could afford to be more vigorous in being moralistic and principled. So Apartheid had to come to an end, and Israeli occupation of Palestinian land had to come to an end. They became too costly for the west to help maintain. I am sure media hype about those 2 countries will end soon – maybe within five years at the very most, like they dropped Namibia and Zimbabwe as boring subjects.

Then the solidarity between Palestinians and South Africans become a very important bond in terms of their survival, and perhaps for the sake of lessons to the world.” During the long struggle for liberation and suffering, they forged themselves to be politically sophisticated peoples, patient peoples, and most importantly forgiving peoples. It never ceases to amaze me that after equally long struggle and suffering, there was not a single execution of former white enemy in Namibia and Zimbabwe. And I am sure that the history will be repeated in South Africa and Palestine.

Shouldn’t some Europeans learn from this, like in Ireland and in Balkans – Bosnia’?

Tad Mitsui
Durban, 22 April, 1994

INSTRUMENT OF THY PEACE

Today, we put on a different cap, and an arm-band, to indicate that we are accredited Election Observers for Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). But many of us prefer to continue to wear the light blue cap and jacket, showing that we are volunteers for Ecumenical Monitoring Program in South Africa (EMPSA.). Now that we have been here as EMPSA for three three weeks, we know that we have more credibility than any governrnental organizatior, including UN, and feel safer in this blue outfit. Isn’t it an irony that today 2 of the most respected and credible persons in South Africa are Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, one former convict and an Old Testament scholar who spoke like a prophet, a voice in the wilderness?  They were lone voices for Peace and Justice when such ideas were outlawed.  We feel honoured to be wearing this blue, this Ecumenical blue.

On Sunday, we saw the power of an instrument of peace, which the churches in 5outh Africa had become. It was stronger than the guns carried by company of South African Defence Force (SADF) soldiers.

We ran into a group of refugees returning to their homes, those who were afraid of repeated attacks by the opposing party members and village thugs. We noticed a company of SADF , escorting those people, obviously happy returning home now that peace seemed to have come, dancing and toi-toyjng (Special South African way of marching with accompanying noises.) We decided to abandon the idea of going to a political rally and to follow them. It was a day-off for me at the office, and I decided to accompany one of the teams in their excursion to the field. It was a real privilege to experience what my colleagues experienced everyday.

As they approached the home village, there was a band of men with sticks and some guns waiting for this group of refugees. They did not want a large number of members belonging to the other party to return. We ended up sandwiched between two hostile groups, one ready to assault the refugees who came back to their homes. SADF encircled those groups Including us in their armoured vehicles. I wonder what the soldiers could have done, if the attackers decided to advance on the refugees or on us.

Our co-ordinator, who was the only one who spoke Zulu among us, decided to speak to the leaders of both groups. A mini shuttle diplomacy began, while four of us stood between them.  After a few minutes later, a soldier, who was also a Zulu speaker decided to join the negotiation. Chanting, dancing, singing became louder and more ominous.

It was like for ever. After about an hour, singing died down, and would-have-been attackers began to leave in twos and threes, leaving only the tough guys – village thugs behind. Then SADF decided to move in. Thugs turned out to be a bunch of cowards and ran away. The refugees went home singing and dancing. We were so very proud of our Co-ordinator.  I wonder now how he is going to face the same crowd after we, foreigners, leave. We will be safe back in Canada or in Germany, but what about him who lives here?

I believe that now IFP is participating in the election, in Kwa Zulu / Natal violence occurs much less frequently. I hope that I have not spoken too early. Our worry now is the bomb, exploding in urban centres. A Right wing element of Afrikaners phoned in to claim responsibility. They have vowed to fight on to protect what they believe to be their right’.’ to remain the master of their own land. They are demanding their own white state. They pledged never to live in a country ruled by ANC. So far, 14 bombs have exploded mainly in the urban areas, causing about 20 deaths and many more casualties. [all deaths were attributed to only 2 bomb incidents – SJ.)

The teams have phoned in to report that there were delays in opening the Votjng Stations, boxes have not arrived, police officers are late, etc. Today is sort of like a dry run, allowing elderly people, those who are in hospitals, and prisoners to vote helped by the institutions.  Tearns reported that some elderly persons have been waiting in front of the Voting Stations since 5:00 a.m. It seems to be starting OK. Bombs SO far have not intimidated the people around here. Good sign! It is probable that black people are feeling safe to vote, but not the whites in urban centres.

The churches are forefront in Voter Education. Evensong I went to in an Anglican church, turned out to be a session on Voting. Churches officially fought hard for this day to happen.  Of course, like in the case of many other causes, not all the churches and congregations were’ as keen on this as the others. However, generally speaking, the South African Churches were’ forefront of struggle for freedom for all peoples. And they are on the way to achieving that goal. They paid dearly, but they won this time around.

At the end of Christendom, when the Churches are no longer a significant factor in the society as it used to be in the West, there is one church in the world, which risked itself for the sake of Justice and Peace, stands out. And I am in their midst. We are riding on their coattai1s, sharing their moment of glory. They are not afraid to stand in between warring factjons stopping the fight, like our co-ordinator I an ordinary local Baptist pastor. I am grateful for the privilege.

I am sitting here in the communication centre alone/ in between reports and requests for action coming In from mobile telephones that the teams carry, I am writing this riot being able to stop tears of joy. I am so happy to be here.

Tad Mitsui/ Durban, 25 April, 1994

ERA OF HOPE

At midnight, 26 April, 1994, the old South African flag came down and the new flag went up, which is a combination of old colours of Dutch Orange and British Blue with African Green, Black, and Yellow. I rather like it not just colour combination but the idea of it.

The first person who walked into a Voting Station in Inanda was Mr. Nelson Mandela, followed by one of our coordinators, Rev. April Mbambo, pastor of Pentecostal Zion Church. As he was coming out of the station Mr. Mandela declared to a reporter, “We have moved from the era of pessimism to the era of hope in South Africa.”

Almost at the same time in Cape Town, Desmond Tutu shouted “yippie!” and walked into a voting station in his usual purple Archbishop’s cassock. He then proceeded to the voting booth with a walk almost like a dance with his typical twinkle in his eyes saying, “Wonderful, wonderful”.

But fifteen minutes after the opening of the voting stations, a powerful car bomb exploded at Jan Smuts Airport Departure level parking lot, shattering all the glasses of the International Departure lounge, miraculously injuring only 17 people. This was a desperate attempt of the white right wing extremists to scare people away from the voting booths. Were they successful? No way.
In fact, enormous logistics problems were caused because an unexpectedly large number of people turned up to vote. Some people waited in front of the station since 3:00 a.m. Line-ups in some places were several kilometres long.

There were happy beaming faces, thousands of them waiting hours on end under he hot sun. Temperature was about 28, South African sun is strong, can kill you if you have no cover on your head. Despite this, people were ecstatic voting for the first time in their lives. One 91 old man died of exhaustion while on a queue, too much excitement, too much sun. Our man who reported this to me said, the old man didn’t mind. He was almost there. He must have voted in his dying moment.

There were enormous administrative and logistic problems, short of ballot papers, IFF stickers (because IFF agreed to join in the election only a week before the election day, the idea of putting stickers on printed ballots was agreed upon.), boxes arrived late, etc. But to my opinion, those were the minor problems compared to the almost miraculous job that Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) achieved in such a short time to prepare for this election.

Imagine, 6/7 of population never voted before thus must be catered for in a few months. Nobody knew how many would vote where.  Anyone can vote anywhere so long as one can produce a legitimate ID. Virtually tens of thousands of Electoral Officers had to be trained. And suddenly a week ago as one major party decided to join in the process, a whole new set of infrastructure had to be created in six days. A nightmare for bureaucrats. No wonder there were shortages everywhere. I think it is grossly unfair to blame IEC, like the press are doing.

Because of these problems, one party, a spoiler, is threatening to pullout. And I say also, “Not fair.” Give freedom a chance.  Besides, there are other means to address grievances, if there is any allegation of any improper process. Maybe, the spoiler does not want real democracy.

It was an extraordinary day.  And it is to be continued tomorrow.

I once worked with Don Ray, former General Secretary of the General Council. He has a Military Cross for flying something like 36 bombing missions during the last War in Europe. But he never saw anything of the war, as he was the navigator. He told me that once he walked into a tiny cubicle behind the pilots, he never came out until the aircraft landed back in the Home Base. But he knew exactly where the plane was all the time. He felt the plane trembled, every time a flak exploded nearby. I feel like that sitting in the Communication Centre for Durban EMPSA office, receiving minute by minute report through mobile telephones from the teams in the field, peeking into the TV room from time to time.
But I am right in the middle of action. It is a funny feeling. Do you remember Radar O’Reiley in the TV Series “M.A.S.H.”?

Tad Mitsui, Durban, 27 April, 1994

LESOTHO: Christmas in Africa, 1968 – 75

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 is 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 whatever 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.

How to give and to whom?

HOW TO GIVE                .

Christmas is a time to give.  But to whom?  A good question.  There are so many causes seeking donations.  We need to carefully think about the marks of worthy causes.   The following are my criteria.  What are yours?

1. My priority is to support people who help me think of the root causes of  hunger, sickness, poverty, or whatever the problems.  So I chose a church, a political party, and the local art institutions.  The church makes me think of  moral values.  Artists help me think of important questions in life.   For you it could be any religion or association.  Political parties try to put those ideas into practice.  Granted all of them can be flawed.  But it is more effective if you are involved to make changes.  So the church, the political party, and the art institutions get a chunk of my money.

2. I ask: Do they put more emphasis on building a community rather than giving hand-outs to individuals?  Yes, it is necessary when conditions are dire. But  it can also perpetuate dependency making some people life-long beggars.  When someone is starving, you have to feed  him/her.  Therefore, I support food-aid overseas, food banks and soup kitchens at home.  But in the mean time, find and support the organizations that try to eradicate the root causes of hunger, sickness, and poverty.

3. All life forms are precious.  Therefore animal welfare and care of environment get my money.  
4. Cash donation and volunteer time are the best ways.  I know that gifts-in-kind cost people’s time and money to process.  Give gifts-in-kind as well as money.

5.  Finally, I would check how accountable the organization is, especially the big one.  Why?  Unfortunately some charities are money making business and little money goes to the actual cause.  I try to find out what the cost of overhead is, e.g. TV advertisement, and staff salaries and such.  They are necessary expenses for an efficient operation.  But the cost of overhead should be below 25 % of the total budget.  I will be suspicious if they don’t give you such information.  

6. So, I never give neither pledge donation at the door or on the telephone, because it is impossible to hold them accountable unless you know the person on the phone or at the door.

There must be more.

The Middle East and the United Church of Canada

I have been involved in a movement for peace in the Middle East with Israeli and Palestinian colleagues since 1979.  I was a Canadian representative to the Middle East Council of Church in its program for Palestinian refugees.  I went there every year and once lived in the West Bank in 2003 during the height of Palestinian suicide-bombing.  I was a part of the World Council of Churches’ program called “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel” as a member of the human right watch team.  How many times have I been called an Anti-Semitist?  Countless.  Which is nonsense.  My two grand-daughters are half Jewish.

I feel that the end has come for my church to take a public stand when I heard that a proposal to term Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories “Apartheid” at the United Church’s triennial General Council held in Kelowna in August, 2009.  The recent proposal was the third attempt in the General Council in nine years  only to be quashed again.  Granted the resolution passed did make it quite clear that the United Church believed the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories illegal and that the construction of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the separation barriers  must cease immediately.  However, the church does not make any suggestion about how it should go about to implement the resolution.  I think it’s time to change the course.  The United Church should stop wasting time trying to make a public statement.  It should concentrate in supporting and working with peace activists on both sides.  

There are many Israeli peace activists:  Daniel Barenboim, a famous Israeli symphony orchestra  conductor, who regularly goes to Ramallah to teach at a Palestinian Conservatory, and Justice Richard Goldstone, a respected South African-Jewish jurist, the author of the recent U.N. report on Gaza, and Prof. Ilan Pappe, a respected academic in Haifa, to name a few.  They are all Zionists and love Israel. But they are denounced as self-loathing anti-Israel Jews by Israeli right-wingers.  

I know personally many others like them in the groups like Women in Black, Bat Shalom (Daughters for Peace), Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Gvul (Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza thus ended up in prison), and B’Tselem, Hamoked (two Israeli Human Rights groups).  And they all have Palestinian counterparts such as “Sabeel” in Jerusalem and Palestinian Christian groups.  Canada has our own too: Naomi Klein and Judy Rebic to name a couple.

My thirty years of work on this issue tell me that trying to make a point  in public statements is futile.   It’s time to start working without publicity in solidarity with both Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

BREAST OF CHRIST

                In John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” there is a scene of a box car full of starving jobless people on a way to find work in California.  There is a young woman, who just gave birth to a still born baby.   There is a starving man on the verge of death.  She has  nothing to give him so she lets him 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 in Southern Alberta.

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.  

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 accent aigu.   But I can not hear the difference those different sounds nor produce them distinctively.  In Sesotho, ‘body’ is ‘mele with an accent grave and woman’s breast is ‘mele’ with an accent aigu.  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 of Christ.  

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.  It means the anointed one.  King of Persia, Cyrus was called the anointed one in the Isaiah, because he defeated Babylon and freed Israelites.  It can also be technically male or female.  If the Christ 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 himself.  So why not through the breast. I was reading a book about the development of Mary’s status as the mother God in the early Christian church, recently.  The status of Mary we know today is not from the Bible.  It comes from the yearning of new converts, who missed a female divine figure because they were used to worship goddesses.  So Mary as a mother of god, a mediator between Christ and us, was a theological compromise in early church.  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 pronounciation gave me an opening into a different kind of understanding of the Communion Service and how we may eb 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 breast 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 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 tohave 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 breast 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 and tear them away 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.  
           

WHEN FOSSILS RUN OUT.

When fossils run out.
It is curious that few people are worried about depletion of fossils and subsequent loss of petro-chemical materials, although environment is the hot topic of the day.  The talk is all about reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and subsequent climate change.   It seems that finding a renewable source of energy as an alternative to fossil fuel is the main concern.  

Happily the climate-change deniers seem to be in retreat.   I sincerely hope that all this hot air will soon produce a forceful and positive result.  However, I think it is more worrisome to think about the result of burning all the fossils and a possible future without them.  We can find other sources of energy.  But there will be no more  plastic.  Imagine that?   The person who drew my attention to this worrisome future is my step-brother, a son of an United Church minister who founded Japanese United Church in Lethbridge during the WW II.  I met him in 1974 through my mother’s second marriage.  He is a PhD in biochemistry specializing petrochemicals.  

He told me already then that burning fossils as a source of energy is absolutely insane.  Where else can you get the material for petr-chemicals? Plastic is flexible: can be made as hard as steel and can be as soft and elastic as rubber band, and can replace a lot of building materials (with such thing as vinyl) and many other things we use everyday.  For example, 90% of what we wear is all or part plastic.  Just look around and see how much of what we take for granted are petrochemical products.  And it can be recycled like metal.  He said, we could stop a lot of mining operations, and never have to cut trees.  And we are burning this precious irreplaceable resource.  

He had worked for many major petrochemical companies; Dow, Du Pont, etc.  He didn’t last long in any of them probably for saying crazy things like that.  I asked Andrew Nikiforuk, a journalist and the author of “Tar Sand,” when he was in Lethbridge, if my step-brother’s argument had any legitimacy.  His answer: “He is right.”   My step-brother spoke like a prophet.  And like many prophets before him, nobody listens to Abraham Kabayama.  I have, and I’m worried.

BREAST OF CHRIST

BREAST OF CHRIST.                

In John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” there is a scene of a box car full of starving jobless people on a way to find work in California.  There is a young woman, who just gave birth to a still born baby.   There is a starving man on the verge of death.  She has  nothing to give him so she lets him 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 high school English class in Southern Alberta.

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.  

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 accent aigu.   But I can not hear the difference those different sounds nor produce them distinctively.  In Sesotho, ‘body’ is ‘mele with an accent grave and woman’s breast is ‘mele’ with an accent aigu.  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 of Christ.  

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.  It means the anointed one.  King of Persia, Cyrus was called the anointed one in the Isaiah, because he defeated Babylon and freed Israelites.  It can also be technically male or female.  If the Christ 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 himself.  So why not through the breast. I was reading a book about the development of Mary’s status as the mother God in the early Christian church, recently.  The status of Mary we know today is not from the Bible.  It comes from the yearning of new converts, who missed a female divine figure because they were used to worship goddesses.  So Mary as a mother of god, a mediator between Christ and us, was a theological compromise in early church.  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 Service 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 breast 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 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 breast 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 and tear them away 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.  
           

When fossils run out.

When fossils run out.

Environment is the hot topic of the day.  And the debate is getting hotter. The UN special General Assembly the week before last, G 20 this last week, leading to  the UN Conference on climate in Copenhagen to come to some kind of international agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol.  The talk is all about reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and subsequent climate change.  Finding a renewable source of energy as an alternative to fossil fuel is the main concern in everybody’s mind, it seems.  I sincerely hope that all these hot air will produce a forceful and positive result.  Happily the climate-change deniers seem to be in retreat.  Even Mr. Stephen Harper, who used to call the climate change scare as a “socialist conspiracy” or some such designation, is on the environment band-wagon albeit reluctantly.  However, it is curious that few people are worried about depletion of fossils and subsequent loss of petro-chemical materials.

I think it is more worrisome to think about the result of burning all the fossils and a possible future without them.  We can find other sources of energy.  But there will be no more  plastic.  Imagine that?   The person who drew my attention to this worrisome future is my step-brother, a son of an United Church minister who founded Japanese United Church in Lethbridge during the WW II.  I met him in 1974 through my mother’s second marriage.  He is a PhD in biochemistry specializing petrochemicals.  He told me already then that burning fossils as a source of energy is absolutely insane.  Plastic is flexible: can be made as hard as steel and can be as soft and elastic as rubber band, and can replace a lot of building materials (with such thing as vinyl) and many other things we use everyday.  For example, 90% of what we wear is all or part plastic.  Just look around and see how much of what we take for granted are petrochemical products.  And it can be recycled like metal.  He said, we could stop a lot of mining operations, and never have to cut trees.  And we are burning this precious irreplaceable resource.  He had worked for many major petrochemical companies; Dow, Du Pont, etc.  He didn’t last long in any of them probably for saying crazy things like that.  I asked Andrew Nikiforuk, a journalist and the author of “Tar Sand,” when he was in Lethbridge, if my step-brother’s argument had any legitimacy.  His answer: “He is right.”

My step-brother spoke like a prophet.  And like many prophets before him, nobody listens to Abraham Kabayama – your hockey coach’s uncle.  I have, and I’m worried.

Problem of Religion

Problem of religions – people speak of faith as though it is knowledge.

When I read letters on news papers making reference to their faiths, I often see the same problem.  Lack of humility.  Few people admit that they could be wrong.  I thought arrogance is one of the cardinal sins.  A lot of people speak as though they know the truth and other people don’t.  I understand that knowledge and faith are not synonymous.   A religion is a belief system, a faith.  A faith makes us believe what we don’t know.  Faith is an admission that there are “known unknowns and unknown unknowns.”  It’s an admission of our ignorance.  (Hebrew 11:1)  If you know it, you don’t call it faith.  Therefore, faith requires humility.  In faith, we know we could always be wrong.  “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”  (Mark 9: 24)

If we could be wrong, how can we condemn anybody in absolute terms who believe in different ways?  So many people, in the name of their belief system – be it Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, or whatever – condemn evolution, freedom to choose, and different sexual orientations.  Some of them even commit violence or threaten with violence or death against those who don’t agree.  They behave as though they and they alone know the absolute truth.  Many people have claimed their god-given exclusive rights to other people’s  land.  They were empire builders from Africa,  Asia, Europe.  More recently the story has been repeated in Canada, East Timor, Palestine, South Africa, and many other places.  “This land is ours because my god gave it to us.”

Of course, humans have done the same thing for millennia, long before al Qaida and Taliban.  The church burnt heretics at stake, invaded “Holy Land” many times killing infidels by the thousands, forced Galileo to recant the view of the universe which is a common knowledge today, justified colonialism in the name of evangelization – “ to save the lost souls”, massacred and persecuted Jews, and took land from Palestinians.  Remember Cecil Rhodes?  He asked for more missionaries because, “They are cheaper than policemen.”  Many others have done the same in the name of their religions, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, even supposedly the most tolerant Hindus are just as guilty.  No wonder many recent best-seller books by atheists condemn religions as the source of evil.

I am a believer, have faith, therefore I know I could be wrong.

I love Canada because I was overseas

I love Canada more because I went overseas.
    I am not a supporter of Liberal Party, but the Conservative Party’s attack ad on Mr. Michael Ignatieff offends me to no end.  It accuses him of spending too many years overseas thus being not a real Canadian.  I too spent a decade and a half overseas, and I became a more enthusiastic Canadian patriot.  I forgot all the bitching I did about Canada.  When you are outside of Canada, you can not help but notice what a wonderful country Canada is.  I am not just speaking about natural beauty and wealth.  I am also speaking about our social-policy that demonstrates generosity and open-mindedness of ordinary Canadians.  What right does Mr. Harper have to criticize Mr. Ignatieff of being a less Canadian because he spent many years overseas and became an internationally renown scholar?  We should be proud of this Canadian’s achievement.
    When we were  in Africa and in Europe, we always looked for Canada Day parties.  When we could not find it, we organized it.  Every year on Canada Day my daughter sent a “Happy Birthday Canada” card to the Governor General.  Whenever she received the “Thank you” letters from Rideau Hall, she was so proud that she always framed them.  
    I did my best to work for the country where I lived as a Canadian, and hoped that it would enhance the respect for Canada overseas.  Are we not proud of many Canadians who made it big in other countries, even after they became dual citizens?  Are we not proud of Mary Pickford from Cardston, Keifer Southerland, Celine Dion, Peter Jenning, William Shutner to name a few. We claim them as our own?  Don’t we?
    Of course, that doesn’t mean they can automatically make leaders of the government.  We should look for other qualities: their quality in political skills and visions.  The length of their time spent overseas is not a liability. A mean-spirited personal attack is not Canadian.

WHEN CANADIANS GET INTO TROUBLE OVERSEAS, ARE WE TREATED EQUALLY?

ARE CANADIANS OVERSEAS TREATED EQUALLY BY CANADIAN EMBASSY?
Re: “Kenyan nightmare over for Canadian”, August 16,2009, Lethbridge Herald     

I was detained for three days in Johannesburg and was told to leave South Africa in two hours in 1972.   I asked the Canadian Ambassador to find out the reason for my expulsion.  The First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town responded in his letter to my request, “As a guest of the Republic of South Africa, a Canadian of non-European origin is expected to respect the laws of the land.”   I guess the embassy assumed that I did something illegal, like using a “Whites Only” washroom.  

Hearing about the ordeal Suaad Hagi Mohamud in Kenya, and about the other similar incidents, I wonder if there is a pattern.  They are all names of “non-European Canadians.”  Ms Mohamud’s trouble was initiated by the Canadian High Commissioner’s office in Nairobi, who accused her of being an imposter and turned her over to the Kenyan authorities.   It was not the Kenyans who caused Ms Muhamed’s grief, as Mr. Harper alleged.  Or is this an evidence of an unspoken the two tier system of Canadian citizenship?   Ms Muohamud said in a interview with Diana Swain, “If I was a white person, I would not have been accused of being an imposter.”

However, there have been Canadians with Anglo-Saxon names who spent time unjustly in prisons overseas.   William Sampson and Brenda Martin were the names I remember, who, though they were innocent, languished in jails without the help from Canadian consular service.  But the difference between them and the Canadians with African or Arab names is that it was the Canadian authorities who caused their grief.    

In my case, as a result of an enormous pressure from the Church in Canada, Ottawa acted several years later.   In a letter of apology from Mr. Mitchell Sharp, I found the reason for my expulsion.   South Africans didn’t like the company I kept; Desmond Tutu was my teaching colleague in Theology.  I didn’t do or say anything subversive.  I am not that brave.  

I wonder if there are others like Ms Mohamud who have not appeared on the media radar screen.  I hope this is not a new trend because of “War on Terror.”

Canadians overseas

IS THIS A PATTERN?
Re: “Kenyan nightmare over for Canadian”, August 16,2009, Lethbridge Herald – A4

The First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town responded in his letter to my request, “As a guest of the Republic of South Africa, a Canadian of non-European origin is expected to respect the laws of the land.”  I was detained for three days in Johannesburg and was told to leave South Africa in two hours.  I asked the Canadian Ambassador in South Africa to find out the reason for my expulsion.   That was 1972.   I guess the embassy had assumed that I had done something illegal.

Hearing about the ordeal Suaad Hagi Mohamud in Kenya, and about the other recent similar incidents in Sudan and Syria to mention a couple, I wonder if there is a pattern.  They are all names of “non-European Canadians.”  Ms Mohamud’s trouble was initiated by the Canadian High Commissioner’s office in Nairobi, who accused her of being an imposter and turned her over to the Kenyan authorities.   It was not the Kenyans who caused Ms Muhamed’s grief, as Mr. Harper alleged.  Or is this an evidence of an unspoken the two tier system of Canadian citizenship?  If anyone can produce the European sounding names who went through a similar experience recently and prove me wrong, I will be grateful.

As a result of an enormous pressure from the United Church of Canada, Ottawa acted several years later.   In a letter of apology from Mr. Mitchell Sharp, who at the time was Secretary of State for External Affairs, I found out that reason for my expulsion.   South Africans didn’t like the company I kept.   Desmond Tutu was my teaching colleague in the Theology Department, and Steve Biko was a student in the University Christian Movement where I was a Regional Director.  And I knew many other people like them.  I didn’t do or say anything subversive.  I am not that brave.  

 I wonder if  there is a pattern in the civil and diplomatic services to treat some Canadians more equal than others.  I hope not.

Wrongful dismissal?

Remember Mr. Harper fired the head of Nuclear Safety Commission in 2008?

I don’t think that my memory is too hazy on this one.  In early 2008, Mr. Harper fired  Linda Keen because she, the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, shut down the nuclear reactor at Chalk River at the end of 2007.   It was producing one third of the world’s supply of medical radio-isotope.   An inspection by the regulatory staff had found that mandatory safety upgrade had not been implemented.  Now the Chalk River nuclear reactor has been forced to shut down. She was right, wasn’t she?  And Mr. Harper fired her wrongly.   I am surprised that there has been no demand to revisit this wrongful dismissal.  I have not seen any press coverage either.  Is it a case of collective amnesia?

Last year, Mr. Harper had blamed Ms Keen of causing a global health crisis.  He said, “The action of the  president of the nuclear commission would have needlessly jeopardized the health care system and the lives of Canadians and people around the world.”  However, the current crisis could have been avoided if Ms Keen’s action was fully implemented and the nuclear reactor was properly repaired.  It is reported that medical isotope will not be produced in Canada until next spring and Canadian health care system will have to buy it overseas with a lot of expense to tax payers.

Politicians can get away with a lot of things, because they know our memory is short.  Maybe we deserve them.

IT’S ECONOMY, STUPID.

Re: “Economy Tops Agenda” at the first ministers’ conference in Regina,  August, 2009

I don’t remember exactly who said, “It’s economy, stupid.”  I think it was one of the former U.S. Presidents.  But it seems that everybody is required to speak about economy nowadays.  It dominates the headlines, and is a top priority for all politicians.   You can get away with murder (of environment) if it is for the economy.  Against this backdrop, David Suzuki said last Sunday, August 2, on a CBC Special program that, though I can not quote his words exactly, economy today is like some holy religious object of yesteryears, to which people were obliged to worship, give offerings, and even sacrifice virgins.  Surely there must be other issues as important as economy; education, environment, the future of our planet, happiness or wealth, the quality of the health care system, war or peace, etc.

It is ironical that the believers of free market economy give reality to the dictum of the Great Satan of capitalism, Karl Marx.  He said what counted more than anything else in society was economy, and everything else like art, literature, ethics, religion, and values were created as the instruments by and for those who dominated the economy in order to keep it under their control.  Religion that promised “a pie in the sky when you die” worked very well to pacify the slaves, for example.

A well functioning economy can be destructive if it doesn’t have a goal or has a wrong one.  Nazi Germany was the most efficient economy at the time, yet it was a well-oiled machine of destruction and murder.  China today is the most successful economy in terms of growth.  But it is under dictatorship.  People  have no political freedom nor freedom of expression. Economies of many African countries are dismal    But I found more happy people there than in many other wealthy places.  

I believe that economy is important.  But it is an instrument.  It is a vehicle for humans to move from point A to point B.  I agree that it’s important to speak about economy.  But also we must know what kind of the world we want to live in.  Too much emphasis placed on economy in the last few decades nearly destroyed the whole global system.  The great guru of popular wisdom Yogi Bera said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you ain’t get there.”  

Moon Landing – I remember

40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

July, 1969, I was living in a small mountain village called Cana Tyatyaneng in Lesotho, Africa.  I learned the language there.  I remember hearing the news about the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s famous “A small step..” speech on a small battery transistor radio shivering in the winter cold of Southern hemisphere under the cover of a duvet.  I remember the mixed feeling I had.  I still have it.  I don’t want to spoil the excitement, but something stops me being over-joyed about it.

1969 was the third year of drought in Southern Africa, the crop failed again that year and people were starving.  Even my $92 a month missionary stipend was embarrassingly 10 times the average income of a villager.  I don’t know how much money was spent on “Man on the Moon” project.  But I can safely say that it was at least several times more than the annual GDP of the whole country of Lesotho.  I was not angry.  Like most Americans, I was happy about the great achievement.  It was a mixed feeling when you hear about something like that surrounded by poor starving people.

I went back to visit old friends in Lesotho last year.  The situation was not much different.  There was now a road and electricity (which not many people could afford).  There was still only one village communal tap for water.  I know it could be corruption and bad governance that keep people poor.  But I don’t blame them for being angry.   We were angry to hear about an average income of an executive of an investment bank that failed and got bail-out with our tax money.  It is 400 times the income of an ordinary employee of such a bank.

I guess the anniversary of “Moon Landing” calls for a celebration.  But while we promote scientific advancement and celebrate its achievement, we should also spend equal amount of energy and money to find the way to eliminate poverty and alienation.  Maybe there is a good reason to make that a part of “War on Terror.”

B: FEEDING THOUSANDS – 9th Sunday after Pentecost

FEEDING THOUSANDS
Psalm 23 (Voices United 747), Mark 6:30-44

The word, ‘communion’ means first of all ‘sharing’ in the Oxford dictionary.  But when we use it in the church, it is a Sacrament to remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  I wish that the church would emphasize‘ the sharing’ aspect of the service more prominently.  Today’s miracle story, the feeding of thousands, should also be understood as a story of sharing.  But first let me begin with a story from Africa.

I worked for eight years in Lesotho, a country in Southern Africa during the 1970`s.   The church I was sent to work with, has the communion service  held only once or twice a year jointly with several neighboring congregations which share a minister.  This is because of a dire shortage of ordained ministers and because  the church was too poor to pay full time ordained ministers for all congregations..  By the way, the most of the congregations are looked after by trained and certified part-time lay preachers under the supervision of an ordained minister, who often looks after several congregations.  Most of lay preachers are full time farmers or teachers.  It has been like this for years.  So such an occasion as a joint communion has come to be called  ‘mokete.’ or a feast.  It commands the attendance of a few hundred to a thousand people.  The host congregation provides a meal for the whole crowd after the communion service.  People come from near and far on foot and horseback, sometimes taking a whole day to get there.  It`s a joyful occasion which many congregations share together.  A host congregation hold a special fund raising to feed the whole crowd.

In the communion service, everyone goes to the alter and takes a bit of bread and sip wine from a common cup.  It can take sometimes hours to serve a thousand people in this way.  Long hours don’t bother them; people sing their favorite hymns and spend the day visiting friends waiting for their turn to be served.  It feels more like a giant party rather than a worship service.  When I first officiated at such a communion service in Lesotho, I was surprised by the number of elders surrounding the bread and wine.  They formed a circle like an honor guard.  I had a double shock when I found them pushing people away after they took communion.  People were hungry.  So everybody tried to take as big a chunk of bread as possible.  This was quite a revelation because I never thought of communion as food.  For me, it had been a ceremony with a symbolic bit of bread-like substance and a drop of liquid with an undefinable taste.  But we must remember that in the early church, when the communion service was held, it was always a liturgy at the beginning of the communal meal.  The Communion service in Lesotho recovered that style out of necessity.  

The Act of Apostles in chapter six records such occasions where people met for communion which was followed by a  meal.  However, sometimes distribution of food was not done justly and some people like foreigners and widows were discriminated against and had to go hungry.  This was why the elders were elected for the first time in the history of the church to help the apostles administer the communion so that the elements and food were shared equally.  

The clue to understanding  the story of Jesus feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fish lies in the significance of sharing.  And the meaning of our communion service should be understood as a symbolic act of sharing the goodness of life with others.  It should remind us that all the necessities of life must be held in common.  Communion which is not followed by a  life of sharing in the community is meaningless.  We must remember that Jesus himself shared his own life with us.

Many people believe that the story of the feeding of five thousand is a miracle which proves Jesus was God.  There are a few problems with this interpretation.  For one thing, many scientific-minded people think this is ridiculous. It could never happen.  Secondly, for persons like me and others, we know that there are many other religions which have similar miracle stories: it does not prove that Jesus Christ was the son of God because of this miracle.  For me, if we are a community of people who love each other, this is a story to stress the importance of sharing with others.

According to the Gospel of John, five loaves and two fish belonged to a boy.  The Bible does not say if the boy offered the food willingly or if the disciples just confiscated them.  The point  is that one boy fed five thousand people with what he was carrying for his lunch, because it was shared.  When people share precious things, miracles happen.  To give up something important for others is the message of this story.  The boy gave up all he had, not what he could spare.  Also it tells us that when people give up something precious for others, something amazing happens.

When I went to Africa, I was young and immature.  I don’t think I was a racist, but there was one thing that I disliked about the local people.  It was begging.  I just didn’t like being surrounded by He told me that, the Basotho have a culture of communalisms, something which we who live in a culture of individualism should think carefully about.  The Basotho still hold a notion that everything is a gift of God, and belongs to everybody.  When one has more than others, it is natural that one shares with those who don’t.  He suggested that next time I ran into someone – a beggar who wanted something from me, I should see how the beggar would react if I also ask something from him.  So that’s what I did when a shepherd boy wanted money from me.  I said, “Ke lapile.  Mphe lijo.” – “I’m hungry.  Give me food.” in response.  Immediately without hesitation, he pulled out a roasted corn on the cob from his tattered blanket.  I was embarrassed because I lied but the boy thought I was serious.  I had to take his gift.  Probably that was his only meal for the day.  But he gave it to me, because I said I was hungry.  Then I realized that we in the west have lost something precious which bound a society together.

We have lost a spirit of sharing things that belong to everybody.  This is why the world practically ignores starving people in Africa.  We are more concern about increasing our wealth which are already more than enough.  Not many people want to think about a staggering number of people who are starving.  Last week a news report gave a figure of one billion people on the earth who are starving.  And it is not because we lack food supplies.  Even in the countries where people are starving, people can produce food.  Food shortage is cause by poverty, not by shortage of food.  There is food but people can not buy it.  Where there are people who can produce food, they have no access to bank credit like our farmers do.  But the current economic system does not allow that.  Food production is a highly  competitive business.  Rich countries which can afford so much credit to the food producers produce so much surplus food.  We don’t want more competitors in Africa who can supply food much cheaper than we can.  Rich countries give our surplus food rather than changing global economic equation.  We want them to remain beggars.  We do not want any more competitor in the already crowded food market.

Here is the crux of the matter.  Just like the boy who gave up all he had so that Jesus could feed the thousands, are we prepared to sacrifice our well established position in the global economy in order to make African to be food sufficient?     Communion is about sharing.  True sharing is not giving what we have in surplus, but giving up something that forces us to sacrifice our affluence.  Jesus gave his own life to share.  If we are ready to give up something so precious that it hurts in the giving, there will be a miracle just like five loaves of bread and two fish fed thousands at the time of Jesus.   Just like a Jewish folk tale of Stone soup.

B: Where does God live? – 8th Sunday after Pentecost

WHERE DOES GOD LIVE?

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19, Psalm 24, Mark 6:14-15

July 12, 2009

Mrs. Thomson’s Sunday School class was discussing the house of God.  Jenny’s hand went up.  She said, “God lives in a big house in Montreal.  It’s a church called Notre Dame.  That’s where Celine Dionne got married.”  But Bobby thought God lived in the bathroom.  “Why?” asked Mrs. Thomson.  “Every morning, Dad stands in front of the bathroom and shouts, “My God, are you still there?”  You may think that Jenny and Bobby were funny and they were wrong.  But you really can not laugh at them, because grown-ups make the same kind of silly mistakes too.  

There are so many people who believe that God lives in the church building or some  place like Jerusalem.  That’s the only way we can understand why so many people throughout history spent so much money on the church buildings; cathedrals and basilica.  Not only that, they fought over those church buildings, , even killed each other.  They thought those buildings were as important as God himself.  Speaking about the place God is supposed to live, think of the way people of different faiths fight over the Holy Land in the Middle East shedding blood. God does not live in the Middle East only.  They are all wrong.  We should know that God does not live in just a brick and stone building or at one place.     God is everywhere.  

The idea of where God is has changed over the years, even among the people who wrote the Bible.  The earliest writing in the Bible about where God lives is in the Book of Genesis.  God was described as an old man who could not stand the heat of the day and strolled in the cool evening breeze in the garden of Eden.  As the time went by, the ideas changed and God became a spirit like a wind not an old man.  Jesus said, “Nobody has seen God, because  God is spirit.”   Spirit comes and goes like a wind.  We know God is there, but nobody know where he comes from and where he goes, and when.   In fact, the word for spirit in the Bible is the same word as wind or breath in both Hebrew and Greek.  What this is saying is that depending on how one sees God should look like, the idea of  where God lives has changed over the years.  Some people believe the Bible word by word as facts.  They don’t like me talking like this.  I don’t mind if people believe that the every word in the Bible is a historical fact, it’s their business.  But I for one and many others see the Bible as a precious record of people’s search for God, in a form of made up stories, poems, and metaphors.  So I believe that people made wrong assumptions in the process.

By the time Moses appeared, humans had invented letters and characters to write words.  So when God told humans to live according to the  basic rules of behaviours, Moses wrote them down on two slabs of stone.  They are called ten commandments, because there were ten basic moral principles God wanted us to follow.  So the Hebrew people thought that those stones on which God’s commandments were written were where God could be found.  They made those two stones holy and put them in a box and called it “the Ark of God.”  The story of the Old Testament which has been selected for today’s reading was about that box those holy stones were kept.  People treated them as though God himself.  Furthermore, the building that housed those stones was as important as the commandments, almost like God himself.  They were not allowed even to touch the box.  Now we know that such an idea is wrong.  God does not live in the words nor a box that contains such words nor in the building that contains the box.  Neither the Temple in Jerusalem nor the stones on which the Ten Commandments were written exist today .  But God is with us because God is everywhere.

In fact, when King Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem, he realized that no matter how big and splendid the building was, God was too big to live in any building made by humans.  So on the completion of the temple, he prayed, “But can you, oh God, really live anywhere on earth?  Even heaven and the highest heaven can not contain you, much less this house that I have built.”  

Here appeared a new assumption, “heaven” as the place where God could be found.  For a long time, God was thought to be “up there” in heaven.  That’s why the writers of the Bible at some point began to speak about God who lived in  heaven.  Heaven became holy the same as God, because that was where they believed God lived.  The problem is, nowadays we know the earth is round, and ‘up there’ in Canada is ‘down there’ in China.  When the second Soviet astronaut went into the space during the sixties, he said, “I went up into the heaven, but I didn’t see God.”  Of course, he didn’t.  God does not live up there.  He is everywhere.

Now back to the temple and the box that housed it.  It is interesting that King David’s son, Solomon was able to build it, not King David.  It was David who won many battles to bring the Box of Ten Commandments to Jerusalem.  In our mind, it should have been David who had a privilege to build the temple, not his son who inherited his father’s achievements.  The reason Solomon was given this honour was because, by the time Solomon was on the throne, there was unity among people, no more fighting.  Because there was peace and unity among people, Solomon was able to undertake and complete such a big project.  The temple was a symbol of unity, people of Israel stopped fighting among themselves and were able to cooperate in building a house of prayers.  The temple made people come together, work together, and pray together.  The building was the people’s house when peace and unity among them were achieved.  The real church is possible where there is peace.  We make mockery of God and ourselves when the church is divided.  We come to church to hear the word and to pray together in peace and harmony, not to settle the score.

My wife and I went to Cluny in the Burgundy region of France two weeks ago and saw a ruin of then the biggest church in Christendom before St. Peter’s cathedral was built in Rome.  It was so huge that even our city block looks smaller.  The church was so powerful that one of the most powerful politicians in France like Cardinal Richelieu was once the Abbott of this church and the abbott of Cluny always had a palace in Paris.  But today, it is a ruin.  Only parts of the building are left to be dug out by archeologists.  People destroyed it during the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, and took the stones away to build their own homes.  The fury of the people’s anger against the church is unimaginable.  The church must have been seen an oppressor and the enemy of people.  They must have hated the church so much that they didn’t want anything of that church building left standing.  It took years to demolish it.  But people did it: made it completely devastated.  The church is no house of God where there is no love and mercy; nor peace and harmony.  Where there is peace among people of God, there is no need for a building, because God is everywhere.

God is everywhere.  Most importantly, he lives within each one of us when we accept the spirit of Jesus Christ, and try to live according to his principle of love.  This is the reason why Paul called our bodies the temple of God.  This notion is the very basis of our moral principles.  Because God lives within ourselves, we must keep ourselves clean and loving.  Inevitably, a house collects dust and falls into disrepair.  That’s normal; we don’t have to be ashamed of that.  We clean it up from time to time.  So look after ourselves, like mothers look after themselves for the babies and for themselves.  When you look after yourselves, you are looking after God who lives with in.  We must also be kind and nice to each other, because our friends and neighbours are also the temples of God.  God is with us and in us.

B: CONNECTED TO LIFE – EASTER 5

            CONNECTED TO LIFE
                 Psalm 84 (VU 800), John 15:1-11
                       232,376, 703, 603
                               
                   May 10, 2009 by Tad Mitsui
                               
A tragedy hit my friend’s family some years ago.  Their
young adopted son committed suicide.  He was born of an
alcoholic mother and suffered from fetal alcoholic
syndrome.  One of the symptoms affected him was that he
could not receive nor understand other people’s
affection.  Consequently he was incapable of trusting
people.  Like a branch that was cut off from a tree, he
cut himself off from life despite his devoted parents
who loved him dearly.

The parable of the vine and the branches is a metaphor
of our relationship with others.  But it also speaks
about cruelty of pruning and the fate of the branches
which have been cut off.  We must know that the point of
this parable is the importance of being connected to
life, and not about being cut off and burnt in fire.  It
is about “Stay in my love.” 

A certain business man fires people by quoting this
parable of Jesus.  “He removes every branch that bears
no fruit.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away
like a branch and withers: such branches are gathered,
and burned.”  This man is an example of those who
ignores  Jesus’ main message and uses the word of God
for one’s selfish advantage.  There are two glaring
mistakes in his logic.  He is not Jesus, for one thing.
So he is not a life-giving vine.  Secondly what Jesus
meant by the word “fruit” is not his profit.  Jesus was
speaking about the vine as the source of life, and love
as the sap of life.  The vine according to Jesus is
certainly not a money tree.

Some religions also abuse this parable.  In order to
keep loyalty of members, leaders of some churches use
this parable to black-mail their members so that they
would stay on or agree with their teaching.  Anyone who
criticizes the church or its teaching is threatened to
be kicked out and to be damned.  This is why it is very
important for us to know the point of this parable.  We
must resist temptations to use the story to suit our
purpose.

What then is the point of this parable?  A simple rule
of thumb to read any parable is to take the first
sentence as  the main point.  So in this case, the point
is:  “I am (Jesus Christ is) the true vine and God is
the vine grower.”  In other words, God gives and
sustains life through Jesus Christ.  The emphasis should
be the vine that gives sap of life.  Life of the branch
can not be sustained without being connected to this
vine.  And this is not meant to be a threat.  In to
emphasize the positive aspect of this connectedness, I
would like to use the metaphor of the fetus in mother’s
womb.

The first nine months of our existence is a life of
total dependency in the mother’s womb.   We are
connected to the mother through the umbilical cord and
receive all we need from her.  The mother’s womb is the
source of life, like the vine is for the branch.  It is
also the very first most comfortable and life giving
experience of our lives.  This is why we curl up in a
fetal position, when we feel miserable.  Instinctively
we try to return to the most comfortable and protected
time we remember, in mother’s womb.  Most of the time,
we receive from mother what we need sufficiently.  This
is how we develop our equipments for survival and
learned to reject what endangers our life.   This is
also why on a very rare occasions when a fetus receives
substance that is harmful, it is shocked into developing
abnormal resistance to anything external.  Fetal
alcoholic syndrome is an example.  It is dangerous
because the fetus learns not to trust and accept.  In
our mother’s womb, we learn to receive life and accept
love.  And that is the normal development.  When we grow
normally in the womb, we develop all the organs and
capacities for us to survive after we leave our mother’s
body.  When we are born, we will have fully grown lungs
and digestive systems to breathe and to take in
nutrition. 

The experience in our mothers’ womb is mostly about our
physical development.  However, when Jesus spoke about
the vine and the branches, he was telling us about
spiritual life that was sustained by being connected to
him.  And spiritual life is as essential for us as air
is for our physical body.  Without air our bodies die.
Likewise without spiritual life we die as human beings.
Just like for the young man, of whom I spoke about in
the beginning, who could not trust anyone, thus life
became impossible, we will not be able to live without
the fruits of the spirit.  Paul says that the fruits of
the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
faithfulness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control.
It does not take too much imagination to see how those
fruits of the spirit are essential for our existence as
human being. 

Imagine a life without love or joy?  It will be so
miserable that it is not worth living.  Imagine a
society where people refuse to be gentle to each other
and live only by impulse without any self-control?  It
is a description of hell.  It is scary to see today that
many people decided that spiritual life is not important
in their lives.  When we are cut off from the source of
the spirit, we die as humans.  People do not realize
that by ignoring the spiritual life they are creating a
society that does not function.  And without functional
society, our civilization dies.  For us Christians,
Jesus Christ is the source of spiritual life. 

So, we have a mission.  We must teach our young people
and tell others that spirituality is a basic ingredient
of our life and that we must be connected to the spirit.
It is a fact of life, not a threat.  How then can we
remind of this reality without sounding like a
blackmail.  Let me go back to the very beginning of our
life.  The first thing we must do as soon as we are born
is to let the air through the wind pipe and into the
lungs.  Not a second should be wasted, because lack of
air will caused irreparable damage of the brain.  This
is why it is absolutely necessary for the baby to cry as
soon as it is born.  Everybody around the newborn must
encourage it to cry and make the first sound of life.
We slap the bottom and do other such things.  It is a
loving act to remind the child how to start using one
most important survival equipment.  It is a plea; it is
a prayer, urging the baby to, “Live, my love, live.
Breathe, cry and live!”  It is not a threat nor
blackmail.  Threats and blackmails are the messages of
death.  But the message of the vine and the branch is
the message of life and love.

Jesus Christ is the vine and we are the branches
connected to him.  Through this metaphor, God is telling
us to live in his love by being connected to life.

B: We are what we eat.- Easter 6 (Revised)

            WE ARE WHAT WE EAT.
                 Psalm 98 (VU 818),Acts 10:1-16
                       401, 375, 371, 684
                   May 17, 2009 by Tad Mitsui
                               
When I was living in Africa, one day I found in the
fridge a bowl full of termites.  My daughter and her
best friend brought them home, roasted them alive in
the oven, buttered and salted them.  It’s a favourite
snack for our African neighbours. So my daughter and
her friend loved them too.   This father knew nothing
about good food, told them to throw them out.  The
native people who live in the Arctic do not like to be
called Eskimos, because it means in their language
“people who eat raw meat.”  Europeans called them by
that name to insult them, because they thought eating
raw meat was disgusting. 

It is interesting.  Isn’t it?  We often consider foods
other people eat disgusting, and forget that our food
could also be disgusting to some people.  In Japan,
eating red meat use to be a disgusting behaviour
according to the Buddhist belief.  Europeans introduced
beef into Japanese diet.  A story has it that the early
ones brave enough, or crazy enough, to taste red meat
were bad boys in high school.  They had no respect for
traditions.  They cooked it outdoors, because parents
did not allow them to bring it inside the house.   This
is why the famous Japanese beef dish is called
“Sukiyaki”, meaning cooking on a spade.  They must have
sauteed the steak outdoor on something like a spade as
a frying pan.  It was the early Japanese BBQ. 

We are very particular about food, because food is
intimately personal.  We keep personal things like
personal habits and favourite food private.  They can
be the source of misunderstanding unless we know each
other well.  This is why being in a position to share
the intimate moments is an important mark of a close
personal relationship.  Only family members and very
close friends share what is private.  Food is one of
those things.  We are very particular about what we eat
and with whom.  We can now see the meaning of the story
of Peter and strange animals as food in the book of
Acts.  In this story, God gave Peter a lesson about his
relationship with a non-Jewish person – called
Cornelius.  The Bible is telling us in this story that
by eating other people’s food, you are accepting other
people as your own family.  You understand why people
were scandalized to see Jesus having dinner with
prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.

Throughout the Acts of Apostles, you find one central
and important message from the early church.  The
Church that began on the day of Pentecost was open to
absolutely everybody.  It was firmly grounded on the
belief in One God, the Jewish God of Abraham and Sarah
for sure, but through Jesus Christ, it has become the
religion for all peoples of all nationalities.  On the
Pentecost, the Apostles began to speak in many
languages, so that all nationalities could hear the
stories of Jesus in their own languages.  When Paul
began to baptize non-Jewish people, he did not require
them to be circumcised.  In other words, he did not ask
them to become Jewish before they became Christians.
Peter’s vision about food was another sign making Jesus
Christ for everybody.  Christianity is an inclusive
religion.  It is a religion that accepts everybody;
saints and sinners alike.  Accepting others through
love is the central belief of our religion.

Unfortunately, some people feel that they have to
protect themselves against any strange thing.  They
say, “My way or no way.”  All of us are like that
sometimes.  It is easier for us to demand others to
change their way, rather than trying to understand
different views and adapt.  The Church which began with
the missionary work of Apostles like Peter and Paul
thrived in Europe because of their open-mindedness, and
became the foundation of today’s church.

I watched on PBS an interesting program about the
Vikings in Greenland.  The program probed the reason
why the once thriving Viking settlements in Greenland
completely disappeared.  Scientists discovered that
when the last ice age came, the Vikings could not
sustain their cattle and sheep based agriculture in the
ice covered Greenland.  Most of the people gradually
died out of malnutrition and diseases, leaving
magnificent stone houses and churches in ruins.  In the
meantime, in Iceland the Vikings switched to fishing,
changed their diet to sea food, and survived.
Greenland Vikings did not learn anything from their
Innuit neighbours.  Historians speculate that because
Innuit were pagans, the church prohibited any contact
with them.  The result was that the Vikings had no
chance to learn the Innuit’s survival skills in the
extreme cold climate.  They didn’t learn to fish and
hunt.  Least of all, they never learned to eat fish,
seal and whale meat raw.  They would have provided
plenty of fat and vitamins to protect them in the cold
and long winters.  They never thought of wearing seal
furs and skins like their Innuit neighbours.  So when
their sheep died, they had no more wool to make
clothes.  Their fear of pagan practices didn’t allow
them to survive in the extreme cold.  So they died out.

I am not saying to know other people and their ways of
life is just a survival skill.  Even if loving and
accepting others is costly, Jesus’ most fundamental
commandment to love God and to love neighbours still is
our most precious Christian tradition.  But the history
often proves that an exclusive and rigid attitude
causes disasters, and an inclusive and flexible life-
style leads to survival.  Remember what Peter heard in
a vision?  “Don’t call anything God created unclean.”
We must accept and understand other people’s views and
life-styles.  It is an act of loving our neighbours,
and perhaps the only way for our species to survive.

 

 

 

Connected to Life

                       CONNECTED TO LIFE
                 Psalm 84 (VU 800), John 15:1-11
                       232,376, 703, 603
                               
                   May 10, 2009 by Tad Mitsui
                               
A tragedy hit my friend’s