FAKE NEWS OR GOSPEL

FAKE NEWS OR GOSPEL

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

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

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

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

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

Better to give than to receive

BETTER TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE

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

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

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

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

Translating one language into another perfectly is impossible

LANGUAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

We lament the demise of truth

DEMISE OF TRUTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVERY COIN HAS TWO SIDES

A COIN HAS TWO SIDES

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

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

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

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

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

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui
Lethbridge

Four words for love

FOUR WORDS FOR LOVE
– Luke 15 and 1 Corinthians 13 –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Racism is ubiquitous

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY WE DENY UNDENIABLE FACTS

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

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

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

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

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS TORTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we redundant?

REDUNDANCY

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUST I FORGIVE A FRIEND WHO KILLED FRIENDS?

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

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

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

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

Words lost the power

WORDS ARE NO LONGER RELIABLE

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

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

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

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

Missionaries were agents of Imperialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress or Suicide?

ARE WE HEADING FOR A WRONG DIRECTION?

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

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

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

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

You don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree.

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

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

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

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

Middle Class Left – Traitor to the class

Dilemma of Middle Class

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

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

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

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

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

What is Christmas in a Multicultural Society?

MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAY

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

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

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

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

PEOPLE MUST BUILD THEIR OWN DEMOCRACY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is truth obsolete?

Post-Truth Era?

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN!

WE KNEW BUT DID NOTHING

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

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

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

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

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

“When will we ever learn.” – Bob Dylan

REINVENTING MISSIONARY

WHERE IS MISSIONARY?
Acts 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dummy Company and Offshore Bank Account

THE PANAMA PAPERS

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

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

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

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

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

Methinks:

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

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

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

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

WHO BECOME TERRORISTS?

HOW OUR YOUTHS BECOME TERRORISTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen and suicide-bomber

STEPHEN, THE FIRST CHRISTIAN MARTYR
ACTS 6:8 – 8:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who am I if I don’t work for pay?

WHO AM I ?

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

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

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

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

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

A Happy New Year!

Return to South Africa

RETURN TO SOUTHERN AFRICA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LET THERE BE PEACE – FOR ISRAEL TO SURVIVE

I CRY FOR ISRAEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectable language is more effective than insult

RESPECTABLE LANGUAGE IS MORE EFFECTIVE

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

 

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

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

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

QUALITY MATTERS

QUALITY MATTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficulty of being conservative

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

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

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

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

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

Secular society protects minorities

I am Christian therefore I fight for the minority rights

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

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

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

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

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

Root causes are often Poverty

POVERTY IS THE CAUSE OF PROBLEMS

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

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

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

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

Limit to Freedon of Expression

Preamble:

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

NO HUMAN IS INFALLIBLE

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

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

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

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

 

Should Doctor-assisted-suicide be legally allowed?

ASSISTED SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has Christian view on suicide evolved?

SUICIDE

The view of the Christian Church – a work in progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READING THE BIBLE LITERALLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

IS THERE UNIVERSAL VALUE?

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

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

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

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

PLIGHT OF PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND

SOME CHRISTIANS ARE PERSECUTED FROM MANY SIDES

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

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

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

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

Tad Mitsui

 

HATE EVIL NOT PEOPLE

HAZARD OF HUMILIATING PROUD PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2014

REDEFINING ECONOMICS

ECONOMY SHOULD NOT BE JUST ABOUT MONEY

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

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

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

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

 

THE NAME OF GOD: WHY THE FUSS?

JEHOVAH – Who is he?

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

Jewish people incidentally do not use that name.  They, in stead of  pronouncing God’s name, substitute another word and say “adonai” every time they come across the symbol “YHWH.”  The generic word for God in Hebrew is “Elohim.”  Jesus called God “Elli” in his native tongue of Aramaic, and Muslims call him “Allah”, both from the same Hebrew root “El.”  When the Bible uses Elohim, the English versions translated it into “God,” while the symbol YHWH appears, it is  translated into “Lord God” or “Lord.”  However, the United Church of Canada still uses Jehovah but only once; namely in the Voices United hymn book No. 651: “Guide me O Thou great Jehovah.”  This is because the hymn is much loved by so many people in the original form; no-one dares to change it.

You may ask, “Why so much fuss about God’s name?”  Here you must ask “Why should God need a name, if there is only one God?”  It is like mother’s name among siblings.  If they have one mother, why should they bother to call her by name?  “Mom” is enough.  A baby doesn’t know mother’s name but knows who she is.  Likewise: Isn’t calling God just “God” enough?

True: we believe in one God and don’t need to know the name.  When there is only one God, isn’t a name as such redundant?  You must understand, however, that it was necessary to refer to their God by name because ancient people were surrounded by many gods. They fought for their god’s supremacy over other gods.  They had to fight off the likes of Jupiter, Zeus, Venus, etc.  Furthermore, during the days of Roman Empire, every emperor claimed to be a god, and forced people to worship him, hence tax was meant to be an offering to a god.  This was why the Jews and the Christians who lived under the Roman occupation had problems about tax because it was an offering to a god the emperor. (Matthew 22: 15 – 22)

All in all, God’s name was a dilemma for the Jews.  In fact, when Moses heard the voice of God in the burning bush and asked what the name of God who was speaking to him was, God answered, “I am who I am.”  What God meant was this: “You can not describe me by any name or in any human language.  It’s just me as you hear me, see me, and experience life with me.” (Exodus 3:14)  It’s like calling the one and only loved one “my love” without a name.  Who needs to call her name because she is the only one?  Nevertheless, the name of God does appear in the Bible.  I guess it is a compromise to avoid confusion.  The compromise was: “Yes, God of Israel needs to be identified distinct from other fake gods, so here is God’s name if you have to know. But don’t vocalize it.”  Thus the third article of the Ten Commandment Exodus 20:7 came to prohibit calling God’s name: “You shall not call my name in vain.”  This is how holy names have become bad words in the Western culture, because we were told not to call the holy name.

This is the origin of swear words.  Many of them come from religious language in Christian culture.  In other cultures, however, bad words come from other aspects of life.  The Japanese, for example, use names of animals to swear or insult others.

 

The word that appears in the Bible for the name of God is written as YHWH in Hebrew script.  You must realize that Hebrew language, even in Israel today, does not have scripts for vowels.  Written Hebrew is all consonants.  Also another the fact you must recognize is some characters are pronounced differently in different countries.  For example, Y and W sound different in some countries.  “Y” can be “I” in Greece and Ireland, and can also be “J” in Spanish.  So John becomes Ian in Ireland.  “W” is pronounced like “V” in Germany and other northern European countries.  Even vowels can sound different.

“A” in my name “Tad” can easily be “eh or ai” in the Southern United States.  Likewise, my daughter’s mother-in-law is a Russian Yiddish speaking Jew and calls me “Ted” like they do in Southern States.

So, this is how Yahweh became Jehovah.  There is another good reason for this mistake.  After the Jews were freed from their captivity in Babylon in 450 B.C., a stricter observance of the laws of Moses was imposed.  For example, because they were not allowed to mention God’s name according to the Ten Commandments, the Jews began to say “adonai,” in stead of the proper name.  After nearly a millennium of substituting the name of god with “adonai” in place of  YHWH, the Jews completely forgotten the vowels for it.  Thus they lost the memory of its pronunciation.  By the time Protestant Christians began to translate the Bible from Latin and Hebrew into English or German nearly two thousand years later, translators tried hard to guess how YHWH was and should be pronounced.  They decided to take, mistakenly, three vowels from the word adonai, namely A, O, and A, and fitted them between Y(or J), H, W(orV), and H.  This was how the hybrid word “Jehovah” came into being.  A sacred legend was born.  Many people still believe that that was not a mistake and continue to call God “Jehovah.”  I don’t mind that so long as they know whom they are referring to.

More recently, most of the Biblical scholars, after many years of research, have adopted “Yahweh” as the much more likely pronunciation of YHWH.  However, I don’t take this debate too seriously because our God is the God of Jesus Christ and I believe who he was, and his name is LOVE.  I don’t need to know the correct pronunciation of the name of the only one I dearly love.  In Japan, for example, people can not pronounce my wife’s name “Muriel.”  There is neither “L” nor  “R” in Japanese language.  It doesn’t matter.  My family love her dearly anyway no matter how mistakenly they pronounce her name.  Their hearts are in the right place. 

 

Long live Jehovah, long live Yahweh!  God’s name is love!

HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD, BUT HOW?

JESUS DIED BUT CAME BACK BUT HOW?

– What does resurrection mean today? –

That Jesus Christ died and came back to life is the most important article of Christian faith, but it is not history.  Resurrection is a totally un-scientific story but conveys the very important human values essential for our existence.  In a nut-shell, Easter is a message of infinite optimism, which is strictly a spiritual matter, not of science.

 

However, intoxicated by the power given by the Roman Empire as the state religion, the church gave itself the right to assume the divine authority, and had lived in the hallucination of entitlement to judged all aspects of human life.  This was how the church often came to dismiss science as heresy for the reason that it did not conform to the stories of the Bible.  It decreed that the Bible is history and science. This is how bodily resurrection of Jesus became an official doctrine and a matter of history.  Thus the true meaning of resurrection was lost in a superstitious delusion.

Now the table is turned upside down, and many people think that science can answers all questions.  Science has assumed the absolute authority and replaced the church of the Middle Age.  Many don’t take the story of Easter seriously, because science says the dead person does not come back to life.  This is shallow-minded arrogance like the church had.  It shows inability to separately appreciate two qualitatively different world views.   Can you imagine deciding a value of a human person by putting a price on each chemical component of a human body, calcium, carbon, iron, salt, water, etc. and adding them up?  A totally inappropriate way of valuation.  My worth could be less than one hundred dollars.

Faith and science do not belong to the same category therefore it is wrong to compare them.  We can not dismiss other ways of viewing the world such as aesthetics and spirituality as unscientific therefore untrue or inconsequential.  Another example: knowledge and wisdom belong to two different categories of paradigm.  We must recognize the different categories of world views on their own merits.  Then we will understand the message of Easter.

Now about Easter: one thing absolutely certain is that something extraordinary happened to a group of people after Jesus died on the cross.  Nobody can explain what it was that happened.  It happened simultaneously to many people and changed them completely.  Disillusioned followers of Jesus had run away after Jesus was killed on the cross.  But  a few days later something extraordinary happened and they all came back together again.  They all claimed that they saw Jesus alive.  Their stories were all different, often contradictory.   There is no conclusive evidence to any of them.  But one thing is certain: they were transformed into completely new persons, no longer afraid not even of death. They behaved as though death was no longer the end of the story.  This is the story of resurrection.   We must find its meaning though it was not a historical event.

We perceive death today differently even from decades ago.  Its negativity has diminished.  For example, my mother died at the age 96.  She was not ill.  She dies in her sleep.  She was happy until the end, but she was tired.  Besides all her friends were gone.  If she was offered a chance to live longer, she would have probably said “No thank you.”  What was the point of the belief in eternal life for my Mom?    What is going to happen to the traditional faith in eternal life, now that the sting of death has diminished?  The question about life has now shifted to the quality of life, not its length.

Paul declared that the faith without the resurrection of Jesus is useless. (I Corinthians 15:12-14)  Really?  I believe in the resurrection of Christ, yes, but I don’t believe he came back into his 32 years old physical body.  For me, death in the Bible meant ultimate despair, not necessarily physical death.   The message of Risen Christ is a victory of faith over hopelessness.  A quick survey of the passages of the Bible about the dead coming back to life has proven that point.

Throughout history, humans have been driven by three kinds of fear: the fear of hunger, of death, and of extinction of species.  Now that we are getting ever closer to the resolution to all those catastrophes, thanks to progress of science and technology, the relevance of traditional beliefs are rapidly becoming redundant.  We are no longer so afraid of them as our ancestors use to be.  Then the question is: is the belief in next life really that important, if it is a mere revival of the dead to life?   What is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ when we are not so fearful of death and not so attracted to longevity as before?

We live many more years than we have ever imagined, perhaps we live too long.  For many people death can be a relief.  Of course, death of the infants and the young must be avoided at all cost.  But it is possible for many to live to ripe old age of 90’s into 100.  The question now is more on its quality.  The current debate about assisted suicide and euthanasia is a serious concern morally and spiritually.  All in all, we can say, “Death has lost its sting. ” (Letter of Paul to the Romans: 13)

Let me go back to the beginning.  Why was the belief in life after death (or eternal life) so universally important in many religions?  It is because death use to be so ubiquitous and life so short.  Many new born infants and their mothers died.  If they survived the birth, they died of illness and violence, if not mal-nutrition and starvation, before they reached the age 50.  Death was everywhere.  It was the end.   It represented despair and hopelessness.  It was hell: in fact death and hell are the same one word in Hebrew language.  Therefore, avoiding death was an ultimate blessing and salvation.  Is it still so when some people began to live too long and are so tired to keep going?

 

So what is the meaning of resurrection today?  Why should it be so important?  What does the Bible really say about resurrection?  I suggest we look at some passages to find the answer to the question:  Is the Bible speaking about resurrection as the return of physical life after death?  Or is it speaking about an overwhelming sense of the presence of a dead person? In other words, “Did Christ walked among people physically alive or was he like a spiritual presence, a ghost?”  My answer is the latter.  That is how I view resurrection: the overwhelming sense of presence of a dead person.  Many who had followed Jesus Christ felt the presence of Jesus Christ so strongly that they felt he was there alive, but in actuality he was there spiritually.  They came to believe that death did not kill him.

The earliest account of an incident beyond death and back to life, in the Bible, is the story of dry bones coming back into life in the Prophet Ezekiel 37.  This is obviously a metaphor, a vision of hope beyond hopelessness.  The bones came back to life with muscles and sinews when the word of God was spoken to them.  This is the message of Easter that death can not kill spirits.

In all of the resurrection stories, Jesus the risen Christ appears and disappears from and into thin air, goes through a locked door, appeared to 500 people at the same time, and said, “You can not touch me. ” to Mary.  He was in a different body.  True, he told Thomas to touch his wound.  But that didn’t happen: Thomas didn’t actually took the offer.  He was overcome by the feeling of his presence and only said, “My Lord, my God.”  Risen Christ had barbecued fish for breakfast with Peter and Andrew on a beach.  But we all do that with the dead ancestors in Japan during the Obon festival, eat with them and remembering their lives.  A few years later,  Paul claimed that on the way to Damascus Jesus appeared to him too.  Christ struck him off the horse and made him temporarily blind.

No Jesus did not come back into a physical body.  All who met Christ on and after the day of Easter had a powerful sense of his presence and for whom death lost its power.  The meaning of Easter is:  power of faith in Jesus the Christ does not allow hopelessness.  Death no longer speaks the last word.   Easter is still the most important event worthy to celebrate not just once a year but on every Sunday.  Sunday began not as Sabbath, but on the day after Sabbath as a weekly celebration of hope beyond hopelessness.  And the standard greeting in the early church on that day was, “Christ is risen!” and responded ” He is risen indeed!”  A good custom to remember when the Christians are often discouraged due to declining membership.

Biblical reference

:

Ezekiel 37, Matthew 27:57 – 28:1 – 20, Mark 16 (the original Mark’s Gospel did not have the resurrection story.  It is believed that this chapter is a later addition by another writer), Luke 24: 1-53, John 20 – 21, Acts 1: 1-14 and 9 :4 – 6, 1 Corinthians 15:1 – 58

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WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DEATH?

DEATH IN THE BIBLE

I have come to believe that the word “death” in the Bible means more than the mere end of life.  It’s finality is more profound.   It means utter despair and absolute hopelessness.  That means, a living person can be dead when one has lost all hopes according to this understanding of death.  It can also mean that a dead person can be alive and present.

When doctor- assisted suicide and euthanasia are a pressing question demanding answer, what the word “death” in the Bible means is an important question.  It’s because we take the Bible as the authoritative guide.  Medical ethicists and lawmakers are challenged to come to a conclusion urgently.  Quebec is attempting to allow medically assisted suicide by law.  In some countries, the assisting someone to commit suicide is allowed by law.  Today for some people, living has become a burden and a nightmare because they are living in excruciating pain or abject quality of life, while they can continue to live on in the wretched conditions for a long time.  Thus for some people living has become hell.  This is because, thanks to rapid advancements of medical science and availability of better nutrition, most of the people are living far longer than imaginable even a decade ago.  Is it possible that death can be a blessing for some people?  What does death mean in the Bible today?  Many Christians still consider suicide as a serious sin as bad as murder.  They never tolerate euthanasia under any circumstance.  The United Church, on the other hand, took the position that Robert Latimer should be released accepting the idea of mercy killing.

Only a few decades ago, the Apostle Creed had a sentence “he (Christ) descended into hell” after he was crucified.   However the new United Church version changed it to “he descended to the dead.” The reason is: death here is a synonym of hell.  If hell is where sinners go according to our common understanding of the word, Christ could not have gone to hell, because he was without sin.  So hell in the Apostle’s Creed is not what we understand it today.  Creed simply means that Christ died.  Not punished.  Death in those days was more profoundly hopeless and tragic, but not the place where punishment is meted out.  Death in the Bible is more dead than a mere end of life: it is the very end itself, absolutely nothing beyond it.  Death is hell because it is the place where there is absolutely no hope.  We understand death and hell differently today.

When you scan the Old Testament and survey the use of the word death, you will soon find that the Hebrew writers didn’t believe there was anything beyond death, neither heaven nor hell.  I went through about 100 passages that contained the word “death” in the Old Testament.  I was impressed by the tone of absolute finality in the word.  “In the world of the dead, nobody remembers you.” (Psalm 6:5)  Death is the door into nothingness: no future.  You become no entity when you die.  An ultimate blessing is, “you shall not see death.”   But only person who was accorded this ultimate blessing in the Old Testament was Prophet Elijah.  He didn’t die; he went into heaven on the Chariot of Fire. (2 Kings 2)  Jesus Christ, on the contrary, died on the cross.

Towards the end of the era of the Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus walked on the earth, there were two different understandings of the religion among the Jews.  The main-line Jewish religion, which was centred in the Temple served by priests, believed that there was nothing beyond death.  Scholars who were called “Sadducees,” were the intellectual guardians of this temple centred priestly tradition, and advocated this position.  They insisted there was no life beyond death.  There was no resurrection of the dead, neither was there a place of eternal punishment.  The dead went nowhere: They just become non-existent according to the Sadducees.

About the same time, the Pharisees appeared on the scene.  They were the lawyers and the guardians of the Law (Torah). They believed that there was life beyond death and the dead could be resurrected.   They also believed that there was a place of eternal torment where sinners went upon death.  You can clearly see the influence of Pharisee’s thinking in the New Testament, in the parables of Jesus such as “Rich man and Lazarus.”   In Luke 16:19 the poor man Lazarus died and went to sit next to Moses but the heartless rich man went to the place of torment.  Christ also spoke about paradise (Luke 23:43).   Particularly in the Gospels and the Paul’s letters, the resurrection is the most important article of faith.

Sadducees maintained the liturgy centred religion in the temple, while Pharisees kept moral ethics and scripture learning as the centre of religious life.  Therefore, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were theological enemies when Christ was living.  When the temple was destroyed and priests were killed or scattered, their religion died too.   The emphasis on learning the Holy Scriptures and living accordingly in ethical living took over the Jewish religious life.  The church today is the descendant of this Pharisee’s tradition.  We hear the Words as the essence of worship, not so much of the rituals, and putting into practice what we hear is the centre of our spiritual life.

Pharisees have a bad name among the Christians, because of Christ’s frequent criticism of them.  Jesus criticized pharisees for their hypocrisy, for not practising what they preached, but did not criticize their basic attitude toward ethical life-style.  We should remember that they followed Jesus everywhere asking many questions.  Jesus dined with them and also had a serious conversation with a Pharisee rich young man about eternal life.   He was buried in the cemetery plot owned by a Pharisee Joseph of Arimathea.  Christ was against the Temple culture, calling it “a den of thieves.”  Jesus Movement was very much in the Pharisee tradition, not of Sadducees.

 

Let us go back to the subject of death in the Bible: That death stands for an absolute finality as held firmly by the tradition of the Old Testament and maintained by the Sadducees has an important merit.  It affirms the seriousness of this physical existence here and now, not “pie in the sky when you die” kind of fatalism.  “There is nothing beyond this world therefore be serious about this life.  Do it right,” they said.  It leads us to the recognition of the importance of here and now.  “You have only this life.  You can not repeat it.”

The problem is: though they were serious about being good before God, their good deeds and ethical life was not often recognized nor rewarded.  That is what the followers of the new teaching by Jesus began to ask.  Their master was killed on the cross, thus their hope had been shifted to his return.   This is where the belief in resurrection becomes central to our faith.

LOVE IS THE MOST MISUNDERSTOOD WORD

TELL ME WHAT LOVE IS ABOUT

IN THE BIBLE THERE IS NO ONE WORD FOR IT

It may come as a surprise to you but there is no one word for “love” in the original Greek and Hebrew Bible.  This is a problem for English speaking people.  It causes misunderstanding about the most important value of the Christian faith.  The popular but very old English translation of the Bible, King James version of 1839 does not use the word “love” in the famous I Corinthians chapter 13 but it uses  “charity” because of this difficulty.  It seems a mere word “love” does not quite convey its true meaning.  It shows the problem of translating the Greek word into English.  It is not the difficulty that the word “love”poses, however.   It is the limitation of human language.  Human experience is much larger than our spoken and written words can explain.

A certain emotions and human conditions can only be adequately described in stories.  This is why Jesus taught in parables.  This is why poetry and myths, even fictitious stories, are better media to convey and express spiritual quality than theories.  The parable of the good shepherd (Matthew 18:12), and the father of a prodigal son (Luke 15: 11ff), for example, are much better descriptions of love than First Corinthians 13: “Love is.”  I am going to examine the Biblical love words to show the inadequacy of English language.

I can think of at least three words which are all translated into one English word “love”.  I think all of them contain some of the ideas but not quite all.  How is it possible that such an important and the most frequently used quality of Christian faith can not be expressed accurately in English?  I can not answer the question, but I can make an attempt to reflect on all three  “love” words and see if we can come to a better understanding of Biblical love.

Let me begin by dealing with the word which is not in the Bible.  I dare to begin with this word though it is not biblical, because it is the most popular understanding, rather misunderstanding, of love in our culture today.  The word I am referring to is “eros.”  You can not find this word in the Greek Bible.  Isn’t it significant that the word most people think and use it in relation to love is not there?  The oldest use of the word “eros” was by Greek philosopher Plato of the 4th Century B.C.  Even then, Plato’s usage of eros is not the same thing as we use it today with sexual connotation.

Plato extol the notion that everything has its ideal model.  It’s the idea of the perfect form to which everything is striving to become.  That irresistible force of pull toward or yearning for perfection is called “eros” by Plato.  This is where sex may find an excuse to come in.  It is the idea that unless one attains the act of union with a perfect object physically, one can never be satisfied.  But that is only one of the erotic acts.  One can feel strongly in need of making a perfect chair, for example.  That passion for a perfect chair is eros too.  The Bible does not touch this Platonic concept.  One word closest to Platonic “eros” in the Bible, according to my first year university Greek lexicon, is “epithumia” translated as “desire.”  That obviously does not convey exactly what Plato meant, for it lacks passion for idealism.  Such is the problem of translation.  By the way, Buddhism calls it “bonnow,” which we must abandone in order to reach “Nirvana.”

There are two Greek words that have been translated into one word “love” in the English Bible.  Though they are translated into the same one English word, they carry different meanings.  It means that the word “love” is not quite accurate translation of those two words, hence “charity” that translators of the King James chose to use.  The difference between those two is not just nuance: it’s substantial.  Therein is the problem of our understanding of love.

The first is “agapeh” or verb “agapaow.”  It refers to self-giving and sacrificial love that God endows.  Its typical usage is John 3:16:  “God so loved the world He gave his own begotten Son.”   When a human person does it in a self denying manner, such as “Love your neighbour” or “Love your enemy” without expecting any return, the Bible also uses agapaow (Matthew 5:43 & 44).  It means human is also capable of the divine love to some extent.  For example, the first Corinthians chapter 13 uses “agapeh.”  No wonder the translators of the King James version did not use “love.”  They must have felt the word “love” inadequate.  They chose “charity” to indicate that it is the passion for self-giving and sacrificial acts.

Another word translated also into “love” is human instinctive force expressed in Greek word “philo” or verb “phileow.”  It is self-giving love as “agapeh” is, but it is instinctive human emotional drive.  It is used to describe that which exists between parents and children, brothers and sisters, man and woman, and between friends.  As you can see, there is qualitative difference between agapeh and philo.  The first one does not need any reason to love but does, while the other is something one can not help and does.  It is an instinct and is a natural urge.  The former is intentional and the latter spontaneous.  In either case, one does it no matter how much it costs while expecting no return.  It is sacrificial love like mother’s love of her child.

There is one word which is not translated into an English word “love” in the Bible but we call it “love.”   It is the Greek word “epithumia.”  The English Bible translates it into “desire” in stead of “love.”  It is closest the Bible gets to what we call “eros”, though it includes not only sexual desire but also greed like insatiable desire for materials goods or wealth or power.

To sum up, in the Bible there are three words that are currently translated into or understood as love.  Divine love and human love, both of which induce selfless acts, and lastly selfish desire to fulfil one’s desire.  The last one is not called “love” in the Holy Scriptures.   But we do.  We love money and power, etc.  I feel there ought to be different English words for each of three categories.  Because of this paucity of English language, such an important value in our life “love” is treated so cheaply and badly misused.   However, the following song written by a Dominican monk expresses love more adequately than anyone can ever articulate.

“Love is a giving;  Love is a baby boy; Love is your brother; Love is your sister;

Love is a joy.  Love is the tenderest thing; Love is a song of a bird; Love is a wind in the trees;

The man on the hill.”  Amen.

ARE WE BETTER OFF?

RE WE BETTER OFF?

“Schlimmbesserung” – So-called Improvement that actually makes things worse

A philosopher at the University of Toronto, Mark Kingwell introduced to me a fascinating German word in his article on the Globe and Mail: it’s “Schlimmbesserung.”  It means the so-called improvement that makes things actually worse.  I find the word very relevant today, when a new technology is introduced every nano second.  They say: when a new product is introduced, it’s already obsolete.  I like its ambivalence.  I think English language should have such a word.   But the question is, “Are we better off?” I am not sure.

The expression appropriately described my feeling about Windows Vista that came with my new desktop.  The new operating system was touted as a great improvement.  But for me it was the opposite.  I hated it.  Likewise, there are many so-called improvements that are not.   They are changes for the sake of change so that manufactures make more profit by selling new products.

Neil Postman, a professor at MIT, opens his book “Technopoly” with a story of invention of writing.   It is a legend of the ancient Egypt which Plato quoted in “Phaedrus”.  As the story goes, King Thamus called on the god of invention, Theuth, to explain his creations: number, algebra, calculus, geometry, astronomy, and writing.  It is amazing that so much of today’s science is based on those ancient Egyptian inventions.  The king liked many of them except writing.  He had doubts.  Theuth extoled writing as it would improve the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians.  But the king reacted, “those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.”  They rely on external signs in stead of their own internal resources.  It retards our intelligence.  The Postman’s book is a lot about what humans lost because of new technological developments while making improvements.

Surely, what benefits digital revolution brought to our society is incalculable.  We can bring any new information with a click of a mouse on to the screen.  But what we have lost is also innumerable.  People do not talk to each other in person any more.  They relate to each other but on the screen.  They talk by clicking a mouse and/or touching a screen on Facebook or Twitters.  We have developed new ways to relate to each other.  People are alone but they are not lonely.  I thought “phone sex” was strange, but now virtual sex on social network!  A brave new world!

Just watch the kids who come to your home for sleep-over. You see them sitting around on the floor, each playing one’s own game, watching their own shows on their own devises.   No more pillow fight nor running around the house.  They sure are quite.  Is this an improvement or Schlimmbesserung?    In extreme cases, people are killing themselves because they are preoccupied talking or texting on the i-phones while driving.  We think everything new is good.  It isn’t.  We have to know the negative consequences of the new.

Every step of progress has both positive and negative aspects to it.  It is a mistake to assume that everything new is good, and old is to be abandoned.

WHAT WILL WE CELEBRATE IN WINTER? CHRISTMAS? HANUKKAH?

CELEBRATING WINTER HOLIDAY

On the first Sunday of Advent at the church I worship, the music director invited the congregation to join in a carol singing before the service.  A child raised hand and asked for “Jingle Bells.”  It’s not in the hymn book: no, that was not what she said.  The brave choir director asked the pianist to play Jingle Bells.  Everybody knows the words: who needs a hymn book.  So we sang our hearts out the song that had nothing to do with the birth of our Saviour.  Christmas is more secular ever, even in the church.  I guess Santa is kind of religious; a symbol of charity, Saint Nicholas.  Otherwise Christmas is more Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Sound of Music, Nutcracker, and shopping.  No religion there.  Serious Christians lament commercialization and secularization of Christmas celebrations.

It is interesting to watch how my daughter’s family celebrate holidays.  Her husband is Jewish and she Christian, sort of.  Neither practices religion but celebrates whatever they like to celebrate.   So my grand children light the menorah and get gelt and dreidel for Hanukkah, trim the Christmas tree, eat turkey dinner, and get Christmas presents.  Best of both worlds.  Why not.  Better than making tons of money on the backs of poorly paid sales staff. I go to Midnight Mass after Turkey is stuffed, ready for the oven.  Next day, we open the presents, and eat turkey dinner with agnostics, Christians, and Jews.  We have a good time!

Other times, my daughter’s family celebrate Birthdays, New Year, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Canada Day; Thanksgiving, and Halloween which of course is huge.  I wonder if something like this is the future holiday practice of secular and multi-cultural Canada.  For those who insist on celebrating the birth of Jesus can go to church. Meanwhile, Christians should be reminded that many of the Christmas customs have pagan roots anyway.  Christmas Tree was a German pre-Christian heathen celebration of evergreen, for example.  In fact in the past, many denominations, including Presbyterians, prohibited Christmas celebrations because of their pagan origins.  Even the current image of Santa Claus, a pot- belly white bearded man in red is an invention by Coca Cola Co.

I think we should give ourselves time to let  new Canadian cultural practice to evolve, without imposing one culture on the other while respecting different traditions, and freedom to practice them.

 

Christmas in the Bible – History or Myth

CHRISTMAS IN THE BIBLE

MYTH OR HISTORY

Albert Schweitzer had three doctor’s degrees – Doctor of Medicine, Music, and Theology.  He was a missionary doctor in Gabon during the 20th Century. He was also an celebrated interpreter and organist for J.S. Bach’s music.  He raised funds for his leprosy in Africa by touring Europe playing in concerts.  He is also known for his  Biblical scholarship on the life of Jesus.  His book, “A Quest for Historical Jesus” astonished the churches around the world by concluding that it was impossible to know the life of Jesus in accurate historical details.  He set the tone for the contemporary scholarly research on the life of Jesus.

Since Schweitzer, it is now widely accepted that Jesus is a historical figure who lived on earth for sure, but details of his life is mired in legends, myths, hymns, and poems.  Though I personally believe that Jesus was one person, some even suggested that Jesus of the Bible could be a composited image of a person created from bits and pieces of messianic and  revolutionary figures who lived in Palestine during the beginning of the current common calender

The Biblical account of the birth of Jesus is a typical example of a melange of facts and myths.  It is impossible to separate facts from myths.   But it is a mistake to conclude that those beautiful Christmas stories we love and grew up with should be dismissed as insignificant just because some of them may not be historical facts.  In the core of this mixture, there is a figure of a historical Jesus which is embellished eloquently with myths. It is pregnant with a profound belief in Jesus the Christ – Messiah and the meaning of his life for all of us.   They show the depth and width of the belief of our fathers and mothers of faith, which are impossible  to describe fully by boring facts.  It is just like: The value of a human person can not be measured by the monetary value of a body’s chemical components such as calcium, iron, salt and water, which could be less than $100.  The renown scholar of literature, Northrop Frye, said, “Myth is an expression of truth on the deepest level.”

Let us follow the Bible passages relating to the birth of Jesus and try to discover the meaning of Christmas.  The following are my reflections on some of disconnected but beautiful Christmas stories.  Incidentally, it is worth noting that, with exception of the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament is silent about the birth of Jesus.  Why Christmas has become such a huge event in our lives today is a good question   I think it is because the birth of a child is always important in any culture.  It was particularly so for pre-Christian and pagan spiritual traditions.  The Church had to find something to quench the thirst for a baby story by christening the popular pagan festivals.  Also in the Northern hemisphere people want something joyful to lighten up the dark nights of winter, even though the Bible itself originally didn’t show much enthusiasm for Christmas.

Religions borrow customs from each other often.  Hanukkah, for example, was not a high holiday in ancient Judaism.  But as Christmas became popular, Jewish people elevated it to celebrate in a big way during the same season as Christmas.  Christmas tree was a German heathen custom to celebrate every-green; this one is a religious plagiarism.  But why not.  It makes grey days of winter smelling fresh.

I begin with Mark and John because they have little to stay about Christmas:

Let us begin with the Gospel according to Mark, which is universally accepted as the earliest account of the life of Jesus written during the first century.  The simple fact is there is no Christmas story in Mark.  It begins with the story of John the Baptist, who introduced Jesus in Northern Palestine by the river Jordan to the public as the Messiah everyone was waiting for.  By then Jesus must have been about 30 years old.  There is no Virgin mother Mary, no shepherds, no wise men, no star of Bethlehem in Mark.  Jesus suddenly appeared before John by the river Jordan asking for baptism.  This absence of Christmas speaks volume about what was important about Jesus in Mark’s mind.  For him, the mere fact of Jesus lived and suffered, performed wonders, and taught many life lessons were what he believed to be the essence of the Gospel, Good News.  His birth was not that important for Mark as his life was most important.  It is possible that, due to his humble beginning in a back country of Galilee, nobody knew how Jesus was born neither did anyone know anything about his childhood and youth.

We now move onto the Gospel according to John.  Chapter one of John does not say anything about birth.  But it begins with what Jesus means.  He describes Jesus as a manifestation of God by naming him as “the Word – logos.”  If you want to know what God is like and thinks, the life of Jesus says it all.  He goes on to describe him as God taking the shape of a human, who is not born of human stock through a human father (1:12).  Is he hinting a miraculous virgin birth?  It is not clear.  At any rate, John does not spend too many words to tell the birth stories.  Obviously for him, John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Messiah the most significant beginning of the life of Jesus. (1:15)

All the birth stories of Jesus we tell every year and love come from two Gospels: Matthew and Luke.  Oddly those accounts are not the same.  Obviously both Luke and Matthew writers did not know the other existed.  Though both of them agree on the mother, Mary, giving birth while being unmarried, and the place of birth being Bethlehem, other stories are not the same.   Incidentally, miraculous birth stories are common in many religions to distinguish special personalities from ordinary people.  To take the virgin birth as a proof of Jesus being uniquely divine simply does not work.  There are too many virgin birth myths to make Jesus special.

Matthew tells the story of wise men, who were the astrologers who followed the star, while Luke speaks about the shepherds in the field but without mentioning the star.   Incidentally, popular image of “three” wise men comes from the “three” gifts they brought.  The actual number of men was not mentioned.  It could have been two men carrying three things.

Both Matthew and Luke mention the genealogy of Joseph, that gives away their bias.  They are interested in Jesus being the Messiah, the king who would free and bring glory to the nation, just like King David did.  The title comes from a corrupted English  pronunciation of Hebrew word, “mahstah” or “messia.”  When the New Testament was translated into Greek, which was the universal language at the time, Messiah became Greek word “Kharistus” – Christus or Christ.  Matthew begins with Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation, while Luke begins with Adam and Eve – the first humans because he is interested in the whole humanity.  Matthew was a Hebrew nationalist and Luke was an universalist.  Both told birth stories attempting to connect Jesus with King David, the most beloved king.  This is why Bethlehem was chosen as the birth place.  Bethlehem was David’s birth place where he grew up.  No serious scholar accepts that it was also Jesus’ birth place.  It is believed that Jesus was born and grew up in Nazareth.  It shows the writers’ prayer for the spiritual quality of political leader.

Another interesting fact is: for both Matthew and Luke, the genealogy of Jesus was that of Joseph, not of Mary.   If Matthew and Luke were serious about the fact that Mary conceived Jesus without a man hence virgin birth, why should the genealogy be of Joseph ancestry? The word used to describe Mary simply means an unmarried young woman, virgin or not.  If she was a virgin, why Joseph was troubled by Mary’s pregnancy? (Matthew 1) It could only mean Mary became pregnant by another man, not Joseph?  It is impossible to make the story straight by trying to make sense out of the accounts by Matthew and Luke.  I think that the point of Mary’s questionable pregnancy is, by making the beginning of Jesus less than socially acceptable, Jesus was a bastard.  Mary was a single mom.  In fact, the Gospels often make the point of Jesus not accepted in Nazareth where he is know as “son of Mary” not of Joseph.  The song of Mary (Luke 1 46 – 56) makes sense: by forcing a young woman going through a socially unacceptable pregnancy, “God brought down the mighty and proud, and lifted up the lowly.”

What is the point of introducing the story of wise men from the East, who followed the star?  That story appears only in Matthew.  Persia, present day Iran, was well known for the art of star gazing – astrology.  So it is logical to assume that those men came from Persia.  Isn’t astrology (horoscope)  still popular section of the news paper?  As far as the Hebrew religion was concern, they were pagans.  So the point of the story is: if you are dedicated to your own belief and serious about it to the point of sacrificing all to pursue what they believe, following the star for example, you will find the son of God, the implication is enormous.  Does this also mean that idol worshippers would also find the Hebrew Messiah?  Will Buddhists and Hindu believers find the Hebrew God?  Or should this notion leads to the universality of religions: namely all religions are like many paths leading to the same summit?

The shepherd story is a typical Luke story.  Luke is a socialist, a defender and sympathizer of the poor and the working class.  Shepherds represent the homeless, and the poorly paid working people.  They were chosen to hear the good news of the new born Messiah.  It is a clear message, contrast to the king and the scholars who knew where and when the Messiah would be born but didn’t go to see him.  Not only did they not to bother, but they planned to kill him, because they wanted to keep the status quo, holding on to power and wealth.

There are a lot more we can touch around the stories of Jesus’ birth and his youth.  There is a story of massacre of infant boys in Bethlehem and the flight to Egypt.  A story of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist, his mother Elizabeth who conceived well after her menopause.  The encounter of Elizabeth and Mary while there were both pregnant.  The story of 12 years old Jesus and his journey to Jerusalem.  I am not going to touch on them, not because they are fabricated.  They are important.  But I have already articulated how we should understand those myths.

We must remind ourselves that the Bible is neither historical nor scientific book.  It is a book about faith written in the forms of fiction, metaphor, myth, parable, poem, and sermon.  What they mean is enormously important, not because of the historical facts they might seem to represent.  Christmas in the Bible is magical.  Let us enjoy it and think about its meaning for our faith in Jesus the Christ.

 

Will you really really be happy if you succeed in everything?

AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW

– The Book of Ecclesiastes-

Scholars agree that the Book of Ecclesiastes was compiled in the Third Century B.C.  by the Jews who were influenced by Greek culture.  It begins by introducing the author as Solomon,  son of King David.   But Solomon did not write it.   It is a collection of quotations from many sages.  During those days, it was quite common to credit a well-known person to honour him/her  by  naming such a person  as an author of a work written by someone else.  Anyhow, the Ecclesiastes argues in short that it is useless to look for happiness and fulfilment without a recognition of the reality that only comes from the Creator God.  It is interesting that this way of thinking resembles the idea of a Greek philosopher Epicurus, who also lived during the same period in history.

The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees every citizen the liberty and the right to pursuit happiness.  However, we seldom realize that such an idea was revolutionary and had been condemned universally by the church for many centuries.  It was termed as an unchristian “hedonism” or “Epicurean.”   Some people who advocated such an idea, that seeking happiness was good,  in the Medieval Europe were burned at stake for being heretics.  The Church believed, “Pleasure was against God’s will.”  Monks and nuns starved themselves near death or beat themselves until they bled in order to share Christ’s suffering.   Denying one pleasure was the highest calling.  Protestants agreed.  It is said that the nightmare of Calvinists (Presbyterians and Reformed Church Christians) was, “Somewhere someone is happy.”  Obviously those church leaders did not understand the Ecclesiastes.

But today, it is widely accepted that the purpose of our life is to find happiness, and going after comfort and pleasure is a part of that process .  How times change!  However, though we live in a pursuit of happiness culture, curiously we still feel guilty in the back of our consciousness when we are having a good time.  Seeking pleasure seems somewhat closer to committing a “sin.”   We still retain the latent traditional Christian notion of virtuous denial of comfort.   Why do we still feel guilty for being happy?   Let us see how this question is dealt with in the Ecclesiastes.

Even though King Solomon did not write the Book of Ecclesiastes, to have him as a narrator creates a fitting framework to discuss pleasure and its futility.  It is easy to imagined Solomon speaking those words.  Solomon had everything he wanted.  He was the most powerful and successful Hebrew king, none like him before and after in the history of Jewish people.  He conquered and ruled the Mediterranean world; he married about three hundred wives, some of them queens and princesses; he sought pleasures and got them; he was the richest man in the known world; he was also said to be the wisest man on earth and was admired for that.  Nothing he wanted was denied to him.  He was adored and praised by everyone. (Chapter 1: 16-18)  And yet, he found life empty.  In fact, he felt everything he acquired was useless; he was not satisfied; he felt hollow. (Chapter 2)

How true this is also in the world today.  Have you ever heard of or met anyone, no matter how powerful, rich, and successful he/she is, completely happy and satisfied with their lives?  The more you get, the more you want, ending up less fulfilled than before.  We don’t know when and how to stop accumulating stuff or climbing a ladder, because there is always more to be had.  We are therefore always frustrated.  Unhappy amidst plenty.  How often we hear people reminiscing the good old times, “We were poor, but happy.”   Power is the same: so many powerful people ended so very badly: Julius Cesar, Henry VIII, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Hitler, Muamur Ghadafi, Sadam Hussein, etc.

Idealists find life totally unsatisfactory too.  Seeking  fairness and justice often end up disappointing , because often clever but less than honourable people flourish and innocent and good people suffer.  How useless it is trying to be good or trying to create just society!  This is a voice of despair coming from a person who had everything and were successful in everything, like King Solomon.  Idealists want to build a world where goodness and justice prevail.  Yet how come so many good people suffer and/or become martyrs?  How come so many prophets and saints had to go through suffering?  Nelson Mandela, Oscar Romero, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the like.

In the end, one had to conclude that everything is pre-determined, therefore no matter how hard you try to control your life or change the world, the result is just the same: it runs its own course.  What will be will be.  You can not do anything to change it.  Whatever you do does not count all that much.  Chapter 3 is a voice of a person who just gave up: “Everything that happens in the world happens at the time God chooses.”    “Time to die, a time to be born.”  Time you choose or want it to happen is not the time.  It happens when it happens, not because of you.

So the Ecclesiastes advises to young people to enjoy their youth, the “pleasant light of day”, because no matter how long you live you die anyway.  In the meanwhile,  it is better you know the Creator God as early as you can. (Chapter12)  Otherwise, your pursuit of happiness will be in vain.  It is useless to start with search of happiness from greed, because there is no end to such a pursuit.  It must start with the awareness of blessing that the creator God has already provided.

Here Epicurus is helpful.  He says, when you begin your search for happiness and pleasure with the knowledge of what you don’t have, you will never be satisfied,  and in the end frustrated.  Starting with the acknowledgement of what you don’t have, and with greed for more of what you already have, you are starting an endless and frustrating journey.  There is no end of lust.  The more you get the more you need: fame, food, money, pleasure, power, sex, etc.  Instead, you must begin with the appreciation of what you already have, “blessing of creation” that God has already given us.  This is why it is important to recognize what is useless, so that you can begin the journey toward true happiness from what really exists, the blessing of God.  That is, I believe, the chapter 12 of the Ecclesiastes means.

“Lord, grant us serenity to accept things we can not change; and courage to change things we can change.”  (AA prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr)

 

Some people think that the Ecclesiastes is very much like Buddhism.  I appended my understanding of Buddhism for comparison.

BUDDHISM

It seems to me that the following two passages of text summarize the basic teaching of Buddhism.

Alphabet by Koukai

“Like flagrant colour of flowers, they last only so long,

Who can ever be permanent.

Let us go beyond this floating world,

Never get snared in nor get drunk by fleeting dreams.”

Japanese alphabet has 48 characters.  Each character is a phonetic sign.  A monk in the 7th Century, by the name of Koukai, arranged the characters in such a way to summarize the basic Buddhist teaching.

 

A Haiku by Basho

“An old pond

A sound of

A frog leap in.”

Interpretation:

Life is like the sound of a frog jumping into muddy water of an old pond; it broke the silence for only a split second.  But silence came back as though nothing ever happened.

Basho was a wandering monk, better known for his haiku.  He walked all over Japan with no money nor change of clothes depending only on charity of food and shelter.  He summarized Buddhism in three lines 5-7-5 syllables haiku.

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I can be quite wrong, and I am happy.

I AM HAPPY  I WAS WRONG

Recently I made in a letter to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald,  two predictions, and I was wrong on both accounts.  And this manifestation of my fallibility  makes me happy.

I thought that Pope Francis could not do all that much to change the Catholic Church, because of the power of Curia (Vatican bureaucracy).  Boy, was I wrong!  He is changing the agenda of the church.  I also predicted that the public would forget the Senate spending scandals by this time.  I was wrong there too.  It is still a big news in the media.  I hope that the public is following the story and continued to complain about the sorry state of the Senate, and the lack of transparency on the part of Prime Minister.  It seems prorogation is not changing the situation.  The supporters of the Mr. Harper must urge him to come clean fast and cut the loss.

I was wrong many times in my life.

When I was kicked out of South Africa in 1971, I never thought that the Black rule would ever come to Southern Africa in my life-time.  The Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, said, “Majority rule will never come in my life time.”  I had agreed.  Then “puff!”  Robert Mugabe was elected Prime Minister in 1980.  My life did not end.  Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1989 and became President by popular vote in 1994.  I was happy I was so wrong.

By the way, about Mugabe, I had had a suspicion about him.  As soon as he was elected, he brought in the North Korean 50th Brigade, and bombarded the Matebeleland, the base of his opposition Mr Joshua Nkhomo, and killed hundreds of his supporters.  We didn’t condemn the atrocity, because we were still caught in the rhetoric of the politically correct idea of “Black rule means free Africa.”  We were punch-drunk and refused to see evil behind Robert Mugabe’s facade.

Lessons learned.  No.1: It’s O.K. to be sceptical but leave a window open for optimism: humans are not always stupid.  We do the right thing from time to time. Lesson.  No. 2: Don’t get caught in the ideology and rhetoric.  Rigid dogmatism and fundamentalism must always be questioned in politics and religion.  Mr. Mugabe must have been condemned for atrocity then, even though he was a celebrated hero for freedom.

Value of University Education

The Lethbridge Herald, an an Alberta City of Lethrbidge daily, published and article on August 28, 2013 based on the survey done by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce about the diminishing value of the university education.  It reported that the university graduates are receiving less income relative to other practically trained people.  And have more difficulty finding employment than before.  I disagree with the CIBC’s use of the two criteria, namely the size of pay-cheque and the marketable skill,  as the only measurement to judge the value of university education.  I believe that the goal of the university also is to produce a person who can think creatively and knows how to see beyond what is.  Our world, like a machine, requires two kinds of people: those who competently run it and those who can see the problems with the status quo, and improve the whole system or invent a new one.  We expect the universities to produce such people.

60 years ago, I had a friend who was passionately speaking about cybernetics.  Nobody understood him including me, neither did any corporation: the result was no money for his research.  So he went to Germany.  My friend was about forty years ahead of the likes of Bill Gates, never made big money.  Now digital technology – cybernetics runs the world.  Industries often are so short-sighted that many of them have no patience for new ideas nor creative people.  They want people who fit in and make a big profit now.  That’s why the GM scrapped the development of electric car decades ago.

There are also many people who prefer a meaningful life than a fat cheque.   Artists are such people.  Also I have been surprised by the kinds of people who joined the ministry as a second career.   Among those I met, there were lawyers, medical doctors, and one highflying executive of IBM from New York and an Union Carbide executive from a Geneva based international headquarters.  They all left lucrative careers, went to seminaries and became ministers.  They saw life beyond money.

Let me shamelessly brag a little (you can stop reading this now): I have two graduate degrees, can work in three languages, worked in four continents in church administrations, a secular NGO’s in executive positions, and as an university teacher, but never saw a pay-cheque bigger than a high school teacher’s.    But I would not repeat my life in any other way.  There are people like that.  Crazy? Maybe.  But I have seen too many such people to say they are all crazy.  Stupid?  No.  I believe that the world is a better place because of them.

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

SUFFERING – Reflection on the Book of Job –

Does God exist?  If so, what is he doing about it?  Innocent children and women suffer by the hand of evil people everyday:  people are killed by drunken drivers.  Slavery and colonialism killed and starved millions of people throughout human history in order to support dominant economy. 6 million Jews were gassed and incinerated  by the Nazis; tens of thousands of Chinese people were slaughtered and raped by the Japanese military in Nanjing; Stalin and Mao Zedung are responsible for the deaths of millions of opposition, often their own people.  And the list goes on and on.  I have not touched on the victims of natural calamities like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis.  Why does not God intervene to stop this terrible suffering of the innocent people?  Lots of people just give up and say, “There is no God.” or “Life has no meaning.”

No matter how happy we think we are, all of us suffer in different ways and in various degrees.  Suffering takes a form in physical, psychological, or social sphere.  The most obvious is physical pain that makes the world look unbearable.  Hunger and poverty are others.  Even if there is no physical suffering, there is psychological pain which is as bad as physical one or worse; such as anxiety, depression, or lack of confidence.  Fear of death is the worst.  We also suffer from interpersonal issues such as abandonment, betrayal, envy, jealousy, loneliness, or separation.  Happy are those who never suffer.  But is there a person who never suffers?

My first teacher in Theology, Dr. H. Kuwata, Principal of Tokyo Union Theological Seminary, told us that four things had troubled humans ever since they became self-conscious.  They are life, love, suffering, and death.  I was 18 when I heard that, too young to understand it. They still remain largely unresolved.   I wonder if eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden thus becoming self-conscious (and tried to cover private parts), might indeed have been a fundamental mistake that human species made.

Humans are condemned to keep asking ‘why’ to the question that has no answer.  We are obsessed to find answers.  Maybe that is our problem.  Should we just accept suffering as a fact of life and resign to it?  It is the approach some people decided to take.  Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, when he was still a prince, went outside of his father’s palace and ran into suffering people: one was gravely sick, another was very old, and the other was dead.   He concluded that suffering was the reality of human condition.  From there, he gave up his kingdom and began the search for Nirvana, a complete understanding of everything.  After many years of search through meditation and self-denial, he concluded that suffering was the nature of life.  He suggests that if you want to overcome suffering we should give up all desires, and accept suffering as the fact of life and try not so much to change it but to understand it.

Such a passive view is  found not only in the Eastern culture.  Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kierekegaard said, “As soon as one is born, he begins a journey towards death” as though to say “That’s life.  Suck it up!”   Atheist French philosophers, notably Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, decided that life had no meaning nor purpose, and trying to find the reasons for suffering is futile.  Life is what you make of it.  In other words, they say, “It’s up to you.”

But we do not take that tack: we believe that we live for a reason: life has a meaning.  Unlike Buddhism and Existentialism, the Judeo-Christian and Islamic spiritual tradition rejects the notion that suffering is natural.  It keeps asking “Why do we suffer?” and “How can we avoid it?”  There is something wrong when one suffers.  Good people should go to heaven – a good place, where they enjoy plenty and happiness, and where there are full of love, joy, and contentment.  The most popular and enduring notion is that if you are good, you should not suffer.  If you are suffering, it’s because you have done something wrong.  God does not allow good people to suffer.

There are many books among the Judeo-Christian-Islamic literature that have made attempts to answer the question of suffering.  The Book of Job is the most serious and profound attempt.  The reality is good people do suffer: that’s the challenge that the Book of Job tackles.

The Book of Job is a drama – a play.  The story goes that there was a good man, Job, blessed with loving family, fortune, and a successful life all around.  But he ran into unspeakable misfortune.  He lost everything by natural calamity and by enemy, lost his children violently, and finally stricken with an ugly sickness with unbearable pain.  (1:1 – 2:13)  And he asked, “What did I do wrong?” He was so miserable and wished he was never born.  But he did not condemn God.  (3:1 – 26)  Even his loyal wife, out of sympathy without malice, said, “ You are going to die anyway, why don’t you curse such a heartless God before you die. God is not merciful.”   (2:9)

Three friends came to give comfort to the grieving friend, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  What those friends found was, however, so horrible that they didn’t know what to say and do.  They just sat there without a word for seven days.  (2:12)  As soon as Job saw friends, he complain bitterly of God.  (3)   Each friend tried very hard to comfort him.  But what came out of their mouths was the age-old traditional notion that God does not punish good people. Job must have done something wrong.  “Fess up!” they said.

They meant well trying to help Job find solution to his agony.  But they sounded like they were scolding him.  Each gave very long speech lasting chapter 4 to 28.   All three basically said the same thing with some nuance, confess your guilt, be good, and God will bless you and restore your health and wealth, and bring back your children.  Job knew it was not that simple. There came another person, Elihu, a young man who was thus far a bystander.  He said that suffering was not necessarily the result of one’s guilt, God may be trying to say something to you: an educational tool.  Something very deep that three friends failed to understand. (32:1 – 37:24)

At the end, God spoke.  He overwhelmed Job by the grandeurs of his existence and the mystery of his acts, pointing out how little Job understood God,.   Job accepts this and totally surrenders.  Consequently Job recovers everything and is restored, even better than before.  I don’t like this ending.  It’s so much like Hollywood, “And lived happily ever after.”  It is so shallow compared to all the complex and profound discourse that preceded it.  The Book of Job offers no conclusion.  We are left with the need of further exploration about the meaning of suffering.  There is a nihilistic suggestion by the Ecclesiastes.  It says that everything is useless, which is more pessimistic than Buddhism.  There is also a suggestion of God who himself suffers for people, (Isaiah chapter 53) Thus, the search continues.

A 22 YEAR OLD JEWISH WOMAN WHO CHANGED JAPAN

THE 22 YEARS OLD JEWISH  WOMAN WHO CHANGED JAPAN FOREVER

The January 12th – 18th, 2013 issue of the Economist magazine published an obituary of a woman who, at the age of 22, changed Japan forever.  She was an American by naturalization, born in Vienna, Austria of Jewish parents.  Her name was Beate (Pronounced Bay-ah-tay) Gordon Serota.  She was assigned to be a member of a secret drafting group of New Japanese Constitution, a group of twelve men and one woman, Beate Serota.  The reason for this extraordinary turn of event was her fluency in Japanese language.  This was how she ended up drafting Article 24 of the Constitution of post-war Japan defining the rights of women.  What she drafted was so radical that a member of the group, an American Army colonel, commented that even the Constitution of the United States did not give so many rights to women.

In 1945, she was in Japan as an interpreter in the General Headquarters of the Allied Occupation Forces.  She had lived in Japan before the WW II for more than a decade as her father was a professor at Tokyo Imperial Academy of Music (now a part of the University of the Fine Arts in Tokyo), hence she was fluent in Japanese language by the time she became of age.  She loved Japan, its culture and people.  She went to the United States to advance her study in an university.  While studying in the U.S., the war in the Pacific broke out.  Thus she lost contact with her parents.  She joined the Army as a civilian after the war to go to Japan, in order to find her parents.  She eventually found them in an internment camp for enemy aliens.  However, the story does not end there.  She played a much more earth shaking role in the history of Japan, in fact in the history of women’s advancement in the world.

Article 24 of Japanese Constitution spells out marriage as one based on the mutual consent on both sexes, with equal rights and mutual co-operation.  There is equal rights in regards to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce, rights to paid work, custody of children, equal rights to education, and many other matters.  Japanese bureaucrats hated it.  Americans took some of them out because they thought them too radical.   Miraculously most survived and was passed by the Diet (Parliament).  Now it is considered to be the most valued part of the constitution. It is one of the two revolutionary articles of the basic law in Japan: (the other one being Article 9 renouncing war.)

I am writing this for two reasons: one personal and the other out of my astonishment.

As is mentioned in the article “Two Rogues in My Family” in the Memory and Stories section of this website, I lost family fortune because my grand mother did not have right to hold on to her property.  My branch of the Mitsui’s was a very wealthy family in Japan.  My grand father had a control of my grandmother’s wealth, which he wasted away.  She was the only remaining child after two of her brothers were killed in the Russo-Japan War of the early twentieth century.  The post WW II constitution could have prevented that.

Secondly, after nearly seventy years, there is still strong resentment amongst Japanese about the fact that their basic law is drafted by a foreign power, the United States of America. However, Article 24 has never been in dispute.  It is deeply entrenched in Japanese psyche.  The target of resentment was Article 9.   Every conservative government that came into power tried hard to amend the constitution in order to abolish Article 9It has never succeeded because no party ever achieved a 2/3 majority in the lower house, required by the Constitution.

It is quite an achievement for a 22 years old woman.

RAPE IS NOT FUNNY

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

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

For a few weeks in April and May in 2013, a succession of tragic events hit the headlines.  The deaths of teenage girls who committed suicide both in Canada and the United States, were everywhere in the news media.  They were sexually assaulted and bullied on social media.  Public was outraged and the coverage relentless.  Then the bombing in Boston happened: the attention has been shifted to the terrorism.  The tragic deaths of abused victims simply disappeared from the media and from the mind of the public.  Arrests of two Al Qaida saboteurs in Canada, then the dramatic rescue of three women after a decade in captivity in Cleveland rapidly followed.  A busy time for media.  Tragedies have come and gone in people’s mind in rapid succession.  Media wait for next big headline event to stay on top of the rating competition.

I remember in 1994 in Africa.  I was in South Africa as a member of the team of  international observers of the first democratic election which elevated a former political prisoner to the president of the Republic.  Daily press conference was a massive event.  An huge theatre was packed by the international press.  Then one day, before the final result was yet to be announced, suddenly the theatre was nearly empty.  Genocide in Rwanda was unfolding.  International press corps were ordered to fly to Rwanda.  Genocide was more exciting than the historic democratic election, I suppose.  Am I being crass?

Neil Postman published in 1985, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”  He was a professor of Communication at the New York University.  He laments that news has become show business.

We live in an age of information deluge.  Our nerves are numb; nothing is serious anymore.   Too much information is making dramatic events meaningless.  It is impossible to make its flow stop or slowdown.  But rape is not funny, neither is terrorist bombing.  What can we do about this problem?

SHALOM: What do you do when a good word becomes bad?

Problem of languages

Some years ago, the biggest oil company in the world changed its name to Exxon.  I don’t remember what the old name was.  It could have been “Standard Oil.”  I also remember hearing that the cost of the re-branding exercise resulting in the new name cost millions of dollars.  The concern was that the new name must not be embarrassing or offensive in any language.  This is a big challenge in the global village where there are hundreds of languages, in which some words have same sound by coincident but can mean totally different thing, sometimes very embarrassing or offensive.

When I was introducing my fiance to my mother, I remember asking her never to utter names of two Canadian organizations: CUSO and MANCO.  The latter is, for people who have never been to Manitoba, an ubiquitous milk brand from the Manitoba Coop.  In Japanese, those words sound like the very rude words for excrement and female genital.  I added another word soon, when we moved to Europe: the name of a popular Italian car, “Cinco Cento” Fiat 500.  The word for number five in Italian sounds like a rude word for male genital in Japanese.  I didn’t want my mother to think my wife got mixed up with shady Japanese characters.

It could be dangerous if you are not aware of such problems of similar sounding words with different meaning.  When I was working with a program for Palestinian refugees I went to Gaza every year.  In one of those working trips to Gaza, though I was travelling in a clearly marked car showing that it belonged to a refugee agency, several teenage boys began to shout “Shalom” to me.  I innocently answered back, “Shalom.”  My Palestinian colleague turned pale, and pulled me off the road into the safety of a house of his friend.  The kids obviously thought for some reason I was an Israeli spy.  I knew that there were many Shin Bet informers (Israeli equivalent of MI5) among Palestinians, but Japanese Shin Bet mole?

I was in love with the words “Shalom” since 1960’s from my reading of the books by progressive Christian thinkers like Harvey Cox.  He explained the word in a most touching manner as a Jewish aspiration for peace with justice.  It has become a fashion among progressive Christians to greet “Shalom.”  However, since I was hired by the Canadian Council of Churches, I have had opportunities to go to the Holy Land, both Israel and Palestine, regularly.  It was impossible not to notice that in Israel the word “shalom” was ubiquitous as greeting as “Hello” in our culture.

This also meant that the word was a symbol of oppression.  Palestinians hear the word every time they are stopped at the check points: Israeli soldiers greeting each other “shalom”.  It is a pity that such a good word has become bad because of political situations and cultural differences.

 

THIS GOD IS A WOMAN

THE WORDS OF WISDOM

– The book of Proverbs –

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of words of wisdom that are universally appreciated voice of reason.   They are commonsensical and practical words of ‘Sophia’ – ‘wisdom’ in Greek.   “If you work hard, you become rich.  If you are lazy, you will be poor,”  Says Proverbs 10:4   “If you are wise, you keep your mouth shut.” (10:19)  How sensible!  They sound almost corny.  Proverbs (8:22 – 31) says the Wisdom was with God when God created the world.  It sounds like the Gospel John (1:1-5) that says,  “Christ (the Word) was with God from the beginning at the time of creation” is an imitation of the Book of Proverbs.

I suspect that, when the Bible was officially made the Holy Book of the church in the Fourth Century,  the early fathers of the Church did not recognize ‘Wisdom’ as the fourth person of God, because “Sophia,” is female.  The Book of Proverb always refers Wisdom as “she”. This is how the Christian Church ended up with the doctrine of “Trinity” –  God in three male persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.   It could have been God in four persons, “Father, Son, Spirit, and Wisdom”, if those who met at the Nicene Council were not all men.   It was at that council Trinity was made a doctrine of the church.

They say that today is an age of information.  But information, like a telephone book, is useless unless we can use it.  Otherwise it is just a door-stop.  Information is useful only when it is knowledge.  However knowledge can be abused and misused without wisdom.  Knowledge in the hands of evil is a catastrophe.  Wisdom is essential for knowledge to be a useful tool.  It is possible that an uneducated illiterate but wise person can save the world.  Wisdom is supremely important just as essential as “LOVE’ which Christ represents.

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of many traditional wisdom sayings by unknown sages.  Many of them are credited to King Solomon, because the legend has it that he was the wisest king in history of Jewish people.  But it does not mean he wrote them all.  He might have done some of them but only some.   Most of them are from unknown traditional sources.  Unlike today’s demand for copyrights and strict prohibition of plagiarism, in ancient days people often attached the names of the persons they admired to their writings to honour them in stead of signing their own names.  So Solomon ended up being credited for many sayings he didn’t say nor write.

Uniqueness of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament as Proverbs is lack of emphasis on the special relationship of Jewish people with God; “covenant” as it was referred to in the Bible.  Other Wisdom literature are  Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Job.  They could be acceptable to all people of different beliefs.   The advise like “Arrogant people do not like to be corrected, But you will die if you don’t let yourself corrected.” is universal.   In this sense, the Proverbs is a collection of advises for all humanity regardless of belief.

However, the Book of Proverbs does say that it is important to “fear God” as a pre-condition to benefit from the words of Wisdom. (1:7 and 2:5)  Still “which god?” is a question it does not ask. I think the word ‘fear’ simply means ‘respect’ in strong terms.  It means that the origin of all wisdom is God.  If God is the source of wisdom, there is no limit to the depth, scope, and strength of wisdom.   It is so vast that it is unknowable and is beyond the reach of any human comprehension..  There is no end to a search for the ultimate wisdom.  That is what it means to say “Fear God.”  Be humble and never stop searching for wisdom for you will never know it completely.  The search for wisdom is on-going and never-ending.   Anyone arrogant enough to stop the pursuit of wisdom because he thinks he knows everything will never know anything.  A search for wisdom is a very long journey.    In other words, we must be smart enough to know that we are basically stupid

In ancient Greece, the father of philosophy Socrates, said,  “Know yourself.”  And the ultimate knowledge of yourself is the realization of your ignorance.  The point is that even though the Proverbs, and other wisdom literatures, do not mention God as often as other books in the Bible do, it emphasises the importance of being humble.  You must realize that the result of your search of knowledge is tiny.  We can never fathom the notion that a planet can exist billions of light-years away, for example.  It boggles our minds.  Search for wisdom never ends.

Ironically, to say that the source of wisdom is God also means that there is a limit to common sense.  Reality often does not make sense and can be cruel.  “Why innocent people fall victim of the action of evil people?”  Consider the string of tragic events of the last few weeks illustrate this. (April, 2013)  Why an innocent teenage girl was gang raped and became a target of internet-bullies, and driven to suicide?  A peaceful annual event of Marathon was a target of terrorists’ bombing by a couple of twisted minded young men?  Why hard working people in a garment factory had to die painfully because of greedy factory owners tried to save money by building a cheaply constructed building?  The Book of Proverbs does not raise such questions.  It’s the question raised by another wisdom literature: the Book of Job.

The voice of reason and the wise advise as given to us in the Book of Proverbs make sense most of the time in our daily life.  But the reality is not always reasonable and follow the logic.  The world is full of contradiction.  The Book of Proverbs does not deal with those contradictions.  The Book of Job raises the question of unreasonable suffering of innocent people.  Job cries out, “What is the matter with you, God!  I didn’t do anything wrong, and yet I suffer so much.  Why?”  “God, are you there?  Do you even care?”  There are two suggestions made in the Old Testament to answer those questions: the Ecclesiastes concludes, “there is no sense in the world.  Everything is useless!  Prophet Isaiah suggests that it is the mission of the just people to suffer.  The Bible suggests resolutions, but in separate books.

The Bible does not make sense, if you don’t read it as a whole.  It is a record of the Hebrew people’s progress in their thinking while they search for truth.  You have to try to understand it in the context of different solutions suggested by different books.

 

 

Administration kills visionaries

PRIESTS AND PROPHETS

– Are they enemies? –

I admire prophets and visionaries, but I have realized that I am not one of them, neither do I want to be.  I had wanted to be seen as a prophet. Looking back on my career, however, I have realized that I am more suited to be an administrator than a visionary.  I am not a self-loathing failed prophet though.  I know that institutions require both: bureaucrats and visionaries.  Sustainability and creativity.  Advocates for law and order and rebels.  The world needs them both.

I was born in 1932.  I have never imagined I would live to be 81 years old.  If you live long enough, as I have, you are bound to cross paths with famous people, not necessarily because of whatever you have done and deserve such an honour.  I am amazed, so do people who have found the persons I know, how many famous people, prophets, or visionaries I was fortunate to share the same paths with.  I take no credit for this.  I just stumble into them and got to know them, some of them rather well.  There are two Nobel Peace Prize recipients, one as a very close colleague and the other now a saint with whom I worked briefly.  Two martyrs who died for the cause.  There are two one time heads of the major Canadian Christian denominations.  I got to know them because of various positions I held in the bureaucracies of an university and the Church.  They can be called mavericks, therefore, quite frankly, they were bureaucratic nightmares.  Let me describe my encounters with fame.

One time I was contacted by Mother Teresa from India by telephone.    During the late 1990’s, I was working for the Canadian Council of Churches.  I held a position responsible for the administration of a fund to pay for the overhead cost of the programs jointly supported by the member churches and Canadian government.  There were three in Africa and one in the Middle East.  In the telephone call, she asked me to pay for the cost of a heart surgery of an important person for her.  In a  heavily accented English, the caller introduced herself as Mother Teresa.  She said that the person, a doctor, was indispensable in her work in Calcutta.  He was already on his way to Toronto and the surgery had already been scheduled.  She must have realized that the Ontario Health Insurance did not cover the cost of a surgery for a non-resident, hence her phone call.  I had no idea how she found out about me and the money.

I did not have a program in India, therefore such a cost was totally out of the mandate of the fund I managed.  She did not accept “no” for an answer.  Besides, he was already on the plane bound for Toronto.  I wrote a cheque: tens of thousands of dollars.  It’s a miracle I was not fired.  I guess nobody dared to speak against Mother Teresa’ request.

Archbishop Ted Scott, former President of the Canadian as well as the World Council of Churches, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Commander of the Order of Canada, did not carry a date-book, at least on a surface he did not appear to do.   Later I found that he carried a thin month-at-a-glance type of pocket date book, which was not much of a help for a busy person like Archbishop Scott.  It was a nightmare for any administrative person working for him, I being one of them.  An example,  one time he did not show up at an important meeting of a nation-wide significance.  He was the Chair.  We found later that he was helping an old woman hauling coal into her basement.

Steve Biko was beaten to death in a prison in King Williams Town, Eastern Cape, South Africa in 1977.  He was a leader of Black Consciousness Movement during the 1970’s while Nelson Mandela was in prison.  In Mandela’s absence, Biko was a real threat to the Apartheid regime.  His life and death became a Hollywood movie: “Cry Freedom.”.  I met him in 1972 in Johannesburg at an annual conference of  the University Christian Movement of South Africa.  After I was made a persona-non-grata in South Africa, I move to Geneva, Switzerland, and worked for an organization that supported his programs financially, funded mainly by Scandinavian governments.

At one point, all his organizations were banned, finance and property confiscated, and all workers were placed under the banning order, a virtual house arrest.  Steve told me that at this point he spent all the funds in the organization’s bank account to buy a luxurious Italian sports car in the name of one of the staff members.  South African government could not touch a private property.  What a nightmare that was for a person like me who had to account for all the government grants!  Their grants paid for a Ferrari which was given to a staff person!  Bureaucratic nightmare!  The movement continued underground, obviously a Ferrari produced sizable funds enabling its continuation.  Does a bureaucracy understand it?  Normally I would be fired for misappropriation of public money.  Fortunately the Swedish Embassy had a way to know what was happening in Sotuth Africa, and I was not fired.

I don’t want to mention my experiences working with people like Desmond Tutu, who was a teaching colleague at an university in Southern Africa and Lois Wilson, who was a president of the World Council of Churches, where I worked.   They are still with us alive.  I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable because of my exposure.  But I can say that they also fit nicely into the model of a prophet or a visionary: creative visionaries.

Institutions need two components to be effective and sustainable: Good administration and vision, sustainability and creativity.  They need each other though they exist in opposite poles.  They exist in tension.  They must respect each other without compromise.  They are prophets and priests, Popes and Curia, elected politicians and civil servants.  If one tries to continue at the expense of the other, both die.  Empire and priests murdered Jesus, but in the end the empire died but the vision of the Kingdom of God still lives.  Time is fluid, therefore any institution must undertake metamorphosis to survive in the rapid of time.  Otherwise it dies trying to defend itself.

BREASTS OF CHRIST

BREASTS OF CHRIST.

Learning another language is difficult.  I have been speaking and working in English for more than a half a century.  But I still have problems with English.  For example, the Japanese language does not have articles.  So I still have problem in the use of articles.  The Japanese way of thinking is that life is full of ambiguity.  Trying to be definite or precise about life is futile.  We have to live with ambiguity.  Who needs a definite or indefinite article?  When I was at the United Church General Council in Fredericton in 1992, the assembly spent a half a day hotly debating whether the Bible was “the” authority or “an” authority.  I had no idea what the fuss was all about, neither I suspect many Japanese speakers.

In Sesotho language in which I preached in Africa, there are two ‘e’ sounds.  A French speaking person can pronounce them distinctively ‘e’ with an accent grave and ‘e’ with an acute accent.   But I can not hear the difference between those two “e” sounds nor produce them distinctively.  In Sesotho, ‘body’ is ‘mele with an accent grave and woman’s breast (or tits) is ‘mele’ with an acute accent.  For the first two years, every time I gave out “body of Christ” in the communion service, people giggled.  I didn’t understand why it was so funny.   It so happened that I was giving out the breast (or tits) of Christ.  In John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”,  there is a scene of a young woman, who lets a starving man on a verge of death suck on her breast.  I heard of a retired teacher who received a complaint from parents  by speaking about that part of the novel  in his highschool English class.

Lately as I was thinking about the meaning of communion, I began to develop a deeper meaning from my mistake because of my inability to distinguish “body” from “breast”.   If you look at Renaissance paintings and sculptures, by Michelangelo and Donatelo and others, you will notice the only exposed female body part is Mary’s one breast, nursing Baby Jesus.  The word ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name, it’s a title.  The proper way to address him should therefore be “Jesus the Christ.”  It means the anointed one. In Hebrew, it is Messiah.  Christ is a Greek translation of the word “Messiah.”  King of Persia, Cyrus was called the anointed one in the Isaiah, because he defeated Babylon and freed Israelites.  The anointed one- Messiah is a generic name, therefore, can also be  male or female.  If the anointed one was a woman, isn’t it meaningful to receive her milk when a minister gives out communion by saying like I said in Lesotho, “this is the breast of Christ” through which we receive life’s sustenance?

After all, the meaning of the word ‘communion’ is sharing.  In communion, we remember that Christ shared his own life.  So why not through the breast.  Recently, I was reading a book about the development of Mary’s status as the mother God in the early Christian church.  The status of Mary we know today is not from the Bible.  It’s an invention of the early church.  It comes from the yearning of new converts, who missed a female divine figure because they were used to worshipping goddesses.  So Mary as a mother of god, a mediator between Christ and people, was a theological compromise.  When you hear people who believe in Mary as the ultimate mediator between Jesus and people, you could feel a tremendous adoration for her almost equal to that you give to Christ.  I am not saying that we should replace Jesus for Mary.  All I am saying is that my mistake in pronunciation gave me an opening into a different kind of understanding of the Communion and how we may be nourished by God.  Try to think of communion as an act that is as intimate and basic as a baby nursing at mother’s breast.

In order to understand the deeper meaning of the breasts of Christ, you have to switch your mind into the way hungry people think about the communion.  In Lesotho, communion services are held only once or twice a year.  Because the church is poor and often could not pay a full time minister, one ordained person looks after at least three or more congregations, sometimes in the mountains, thirty congregations.  Each congregation is looked after on Sundays by a part-time trained and certified lay preacher called an “evangelist” who is usually a teacher in a city and/or a farmer in the countryside.  So if an ordained person has ten congregations, for example, communion services are held jointly once or twice a year with a few neighbouring congregations.  A host congregation holds fundraising events in order to sponsor such an event.  They have to have sufficient funds to  feed the crowd who may walk hours to come to the special joint communion service.  It is called ‘mokete’ meaning “Feast.”  It’s a joyful occasion.

When I went to administer a communion like that for the first time, I had a few surprises, not only the breasts of Christ I gave out unknowingly.  They used home-baked hearty bread and sweet South African wine in a common cup.  Bread is held by the minister which each communicant tear away a chunk, and a cup of wine is held by an elder from which each person has a sip.

But what surprised me  was that the a group of elders surrounded me and the cup holding elder like the honour  guards.  What surprised me even more was that their role was to make sure people didn’t take too much of bread and wine.  They pushed them away if they thought someone was taking too big a chunk of bread and drink too much from the cup if they stay there too long.  People were hungry.  For them, even a bit of bread and a drop of wine were food.  It never dawned on me, since I came from an affluent society, that communion could mean  food when you are hungry.

In Communion Service, we remember that Christ shared his own life, the most precious thing any living person has.  Food is precious for a lot of people in the world.  By taking communion, we must remind ourselves that this symbolic act is a beginning of our action to try to eradicate hunger from our world.  In conclusion, I wish to go back to John Steinbeck.  The communion is a remembrance of an event as intimate and embarrassing as the young woman’s act who had nothing else to give except what she had.

 

We fight when we are too close, look alike, eat the same stuff. Stupid, eh?

WHY NEIGHBOURS HATE EACH OTHER?

Again and again catastrophes caused by religious fanatics were on the headlines:  the home-grown alleged “Islamist terrorists” in Ottawa and the aborted Qur’an burning day in Gainsville in Florida, etc. etc.  It seems that where proximity and similarity exist, there is more possibility of hostility.  We must remember that Christianity and Islam are very similar in many ways.  It seems that similarity brings out a difference into focus and becomes an irritation.

I have often been asked if I could tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese.  Yes sometimes, but not always.  When I was in South Africa during the 1970’s, Japanese were classified as “Honorary White” because of the trade links with Japan, but Chinses were not.  A bus driver was taken to court because he forced a Japanese business man off the whites only bus.   He thought he saw a Chinese.  The bus driver won the case, because even the judge could not tell the difference Chinese and Japanese.  And yet, both nationalities have been traditional enemies for millenia.

Often enemies are neighbours.  Irish and English, Chinese and Japanese, Basque and Spanish, Hutu and Tutsi, Israeli and Palestinian.  The same problem of being too close exists between religions:  Christianity and Islam, for example.  Both are the branches of one root, Judaism: we are all children of Abraham and Sarah.   And yet, some of my co-religionists speak of the cousins-in-faith as though they were arch-enemies, calling them some such names as devils or Satan.

I think that the trouble is we are close enough to understand them partly but refuse to see the whole, because they are too close for comfort.  So we fight over small stuff, even kill each other from time to time, because we don’t  try to understand little difference.  What a stupidity!  Why can’t we try to see the other side and understand it?  After all, we differ only on minor points; easy to bridge the gap.  Isn’t a refusal to do this the root causes of many troubles today?

We have to learn the art of compromise, and see good things in different ideas.  Therein is a solution to the current political dilemma in Canada too.  When there does not seem to be a possibility of a majority government, a coalition is a good possibility.  There is already one in the U.K., and another in Australia.  Why not in Canada?  Our politicians have to stop speaking of the other parties as though they were enemies.

WALLS ARE WASTEFUL, AND DO NOTHING TO PREVENT DISASTER.

REFLECTION ON WALLS

I lit a candle at the alter of the Church of Reconciliation in Berlin last summer, 2012.  We were there on holiday for gallery hopping.  I light a candle when I am overcome by a profound emotion which no word can adequately express .  The chapel was built with crushed stones from the millennium old original church building which was blown up in 1985 by the Communist East Germany, because it was located by the wall.  Many people died trying to climb over it seeking freedom.  The Wall came down in 1989 when Communism itself fell.

I could not help but think of a few other walls in history.  The Great Wall of China, Roman Walls that dot  England, the Sea Wall in Hakata in Kyushu, Japan built against Mongol invasion, the Wall in Israel and Palestine, and the Sea Wall outside of the Fukshima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power station against Tsunami.  Did they effectively stop the menace they meant to stop?  It is debatable. Isn’t it.

The guide book says: The Great Wall of China never stopped Mongoianl invasion.  In stead, it acted as  an useful East-West highway.  I don’t know what role the Romans walls played in England, but the sea wall in Kyushu was never useful against Kubla Khan’s navy.  It was a powerful typhoon that sunk the Mongolian warships.  Not the wall that stopped the invasion.  The word Kamikaze was invented to describe the event: it means “Wind of God.”   The wall in Israel Palestine did not stop the Palestinian terrorists.  I lived there at the height of the suicide-bombing spell.  It did not stop the bombers.  They had other ways to go around it.  It was a change in the policy of the Palestinian authority that stopped it.  We know what happened to the sea wall of Fukushima Nuclear Power Station.  They thought 8 metre was high enough.  It wasn’t.  13 metres high Tsuami caused the unprecedented nuclear melt down.

Walls are expensive, but never effective.  Good neighborliness is the most effective deterrent against the menace from bad relationship.  In case of Fukushima, living in harmony with nature will deter such catastrophe.  Then why we keep on building them?

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

THE DEBATE GOES ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The debate continues.

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

SOMETHING SHOULD NOT BE JUST A BACKDROP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONFLICT IS NORMAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELIGION IS AN INVENTION OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

RELIGION IS AN INVENTION OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stereotype does not cover everyone.

I AM A CHRISTIAN TOO

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

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

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

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

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

VIRGIN MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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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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

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.

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 ….

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.

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.

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.

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

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 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

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.

I am what I am

Please don’t ask me where I come from.

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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.

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.

rn

June 15, 2006

Living with ambiguity

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

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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.  

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Tad Mitsui
Montreal
June, 1994

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.

 

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 .

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Tad Mitsui
February 6, 2001
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.

rn

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.

rn

 

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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.

rn

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

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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.  
           

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.

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.”  

How can they deny facts such as Climate change, Evolution, and Holocaust?

Deniers of Climate Change, Evolution, and Holocaust.

How can they refuse to accept facts?

I was flabbergasted to hear that, in this day and age there existed a priest who still denied Holocaust ever happened. Incredible! Even more alarming is, though he was ex-communicated twenty years ago, Pope allowed him back into the church. I guess there are people whose minds are made up, and facts may not confuse their convictions. Also there are people who deny ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Evolution’. Incredible but true. Another example: I could not believe my ears when Stephen Harper said, as late as last fall, that there was little possibility of recession in Canada. But we still voted him into power. No wonder after 200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to support his theory of evolution, there are people who believe that the world and everything in it were created by God in six days about six thousand years ago, because the Bible says so.

Of course, some people may think it is incredible that a relatively intelligent person like me still believes in God. I am happy to be living in a country where we don’t imprison people for ideas that are unacceptable to others. We should be grateful for freedom that allows us to say anything in public even when it sounds ridiculous. The debate between “Creationists” and “Evolutionists” can go on for ever. It doesn’t bother me. We are all free to make ourselves look silly. Chimpanzee may feel offended. But hey, it’s a free country.

However, I do take exception to the ideas that harm nature or incite hatred against some categories of people. Holocaust denial is one of them. It leads to hatred of Jewish people. I condemn that. Another is denial of climate change due to human activities. It hurts everybody and everything. But still some people seem determined to dismiss overwhelming scientific evidence and say people like David Suzuki are being hysterical. This is not acceptable, because it will lead to destruction of the world as we know it. The January 30 issue of the Guardian Weekly asked (Page 40), “What killer facts might silence climate-change deniers?” Someone from Australia answered, “Extinction.” But I don’t want to become extinct, neither do I want my grand daughters’ children become extinct.

Re-examine the notion of consumer credit

ISN’T IT TIME TO RE-EXAMINE THE NOTION OF CREDIT?

I heard that the size of the consumer debt of an average Canadian household was $44,000. I was surprised how fast the perception of ‘credit’ had changed. The notion of ‘consumer credit’ is relatively new. Thirty years ago, credit cards were privileges accorded to only credit-worthy people. When I was living in Southern Africa during the seventies’, I had a relatively comfortable income as a lecturer of an university. Many of my white colleagues had Diner’s Club and/or American Express cards. But my credit card application was rejected probably because my name put me into a category of a certain racial group. None of my black colleagues had credit cards. As soon as I moved to Switzerland, I got a credit card. I don’t condone race-based criteria, but being refused a credit card taught me that credit isn’t a necessary prerequisite for life. Nevertheless, I wonder if the time has come to examine the current financial crisis in the light of what the whole notion of credit should be.

A few decades ago, many Evangelical Christians preached against debt. They quoted the Bible, “Owe no-one anything” (Romans 13:8) as the basis for rejecting consumer credit. I don’t usually accept a literal interpretation of the Scriptures. However, we are facing a crisis of the financial system today. I wonder if my evangelical friends were onto something we should think about. An older version of the Lord’s Prayer uses “Forgive us our debt” with the implication that debt is a sin or a transgression. This sounds very strong. But I wonder if we have moved too far to the other extreme. Guilt free debt and greed have become “cool.” People have no patience for delayed gratification: “I want it, so I get it right now, and pay later.” People feel entitled to own stuff without responsibility. There is a problem here. I just wonder if time has come to think about uncool things like discipline, frugality, and patience. People who lived through the depression of the thirties used to speak about those values. “Consumer credit” is a given in our economy today, but perhaps we need to consider the point at which it “trespasses” against common sense and other important values.

Making something out of nothing

Making something out of nothing

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11

January 8, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

I was once locked up in solitary confinement for 72 hours. It was during the bad old days of apartheid in South Africa. Racial discrimination was the law. I was going mad not because I was locked up but because I had too much time and nothing else. There was no book nor paper to read, no radio nor TV, not even a window to look out. Each minute felt like hours. I could not cope with having too much time. Time became my torturer. I had been so hooked to print, sight, and sound that without anything to read, listen, or watch, I was going crazy. As a minister, I should have been able to enjoy time meditating or praying. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t able to do that. I had lost capability to live alone by myself because I was used to living with too much stuff. Today, we are drowned in images, prints, and sounds, and lost the art of memorizing poems and stories; and making things out of nothing.

The book of Genesis says that before God created the world, there was nothing but a formless void in the darkness. God created the world out of nothing. He did not buy the world in the shopping mall, neither did he assembled the world from a kit nor like a dinner from a frozen package. He made it out of nothing. We too can create something out of nothing. God created us according to his image. We are like God to some extent. Our creativity is God’s image in us. Unfortunately, more and more our society is turning us into buyers and clients of things made by some other people. Many of us no longer use our creativity. After God created the world one creature at a time, he looked at it and said, “That’s good!” There is an enormous pleasure in creating things out of nothing.

One of the joys of living in small communities like Southern Alberta is to find people still making things. You bake cookies and pies, and knit woolen mitten and socks. You entertain yourselves playing music and attending concerts by local choirs. But you must admit that likes of a lot of people in our community is rare nowadays. In big cities, many people don’t make things any more. One day in Toronto at a supermarket check-out counter, a woman in her thirties who stood behind me asked me what I was going to do with a sack of flour on my cart. She had no idea that she could make bread, cookies and pies out of flour.

Today many people buy everything ready-made including entertainment and sports. Today, sports for many people are not something you play. Sports is watching other people play sports. Entertainment for them is to sit and let other people entertain them. They don’t entertain themselves any more. They don’t make things any more. They buy everything ready made. They don’t remember the art of creation any more. Many people don’t know what to do with formless void any more. Many of us lost ability to make something out of nothing. We lost God in us.

Inability of many people today to cope with formless void is a very serious problem of our society. We ask what we can get without asking what we can do. Many people take the same attitude towards the church. Prof. Reg Bibby at the U of L found that most Canadians are still religious but they look for spiritual fulfilment in the same way as they go out for a good bargain in the shopping mall. They have no idea that religion is something they work on. They forget that the church is a community that we create. We can create good governments too, if we participate in the political process. That will make politicians more accountable to us. We complain about corruption in politics, but ignore the fact that many us don’t care about it. They don’t even bother to vote in the elections. A teenager said to me once, “The church is fun when you do stuff with friends together.” A hockey game is a lot more fun if your child is playing in it than watching it on a TV where a bunch of millionaires fooling around on ice. If you are in it yourself, it can be irresistible – it can be almost like a religion. It all comes down to rediscovering the joy of creating something yourself.

Every morning in a village in Africa where I lived, a long queue was formed in front of a nearby Mission Hospital. First thing in the morning, a senior nurse came out to do a quick triage to make sure the serious cases of illness were taken care of first. Then, a long wait began for the rest of the people. All of them came with food and drink to last the whole day. Yet, I have never seen a happier group of people. Most of them enjoyed visiting each other. Inevitably, some people would start to sing which became chorus when others joined. Some of them would dance with chorus. They knew how to amuse themselves with little. They never lost of the art of making something out of nothing. They never lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company. They might be poor, but richer than we are in creativity. We, on the other hand, lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company.

The closer you get to the way God created the world out of nothing, the happier you will be doing it. We must rediscover the joy of making something out of time you have with friends; of pieces of material, yards of wool, or a sack of flour. God looked at the formless void in the darkness with twinkle in the eyes thinking of all the things that he could create. If we lose sight of that joy of creation, we will all be customers and clients of the society someone else runs – couch potatoes who only know how to complain. We will no longer be citizens nor members. We must repent.

When a group of people, be it a husband and wife or a friends, can enjoy each others’ company with nothing to do in particular, it’s a sign of good relationship. It is time for us to rediscover creativity we have lost on the way to become civilized. God created the world out of nothing and was very happy with what he made. We should do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making something out of nothing

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11

January 8, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

I was once locked up in solitary confinement for 72 hours. It was during the bad old days of apartheid in South Africa. Racial discrimination was the law. I was going mad not because I was locked up but because I had too much time and nothing else. There was no book nor paper to read, no radio nor TV, not even a window to look out. Each minute felt like hours. I could not cope with having too much time. Time became my torturer. I had been so hooked to print, sight, and sound that without anything to read, listen, or watch, I was going crazy. As a minister, I should have been able to enjoy time meditating or praying. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t able to do that. I had lost capability to live alone by myself because I was used to living with too much stuff. Today, we are drowned in images, prints, and sounds, and lost the art of memorizing poems and stories; and making things out of nothing.

The book of Genesis says that before God created the world, there was nothing but a formless void in the darkness. God created the world out of nothing. He did not buy the world in the shopping mall, neither did he assembled the world from a kit nor like a dinner from a frozen package. He made it out of nothing. We too can create something out of nothing. God created us according to his image. We are like God to some extent. Our creativity is God’s image in us. Unfortunately, more and more our society is turning us into buyers and clients of things made by some other people. Many of us no longer use our creativity. After God created the world one creature at a time, he looked at it and said, “That’s good!” There is an enormous pleasure in creating things out of nothing.

One of the joys of living in small communities like Southern Alberta is to find people still making things. You bake cookies and pies, and knit woolen mitten and socks. You entertain yourselves playing music and attending concerts by local choirs. But you must admit that likes of a lot of people in our community is rare nowadays. In big cities, many people don’t make things any more. One day in Toronto at a supermarket check-out counter, a woman in her thirties who stood behind me asked me what I was going to do with a sack of flour on my cart. She had no idea that she could make bread, cookies and pies out of flour.

Today many people buy everything ready-made including entertainment and sports. Today, sports for many people are not something you play. Sports is watching other people play sports. Entertainment for them is to sit and let other people entertain them. They don’t entertain themselves any more. They don’t make things any more. They buy everything ready made. They don’t remember the art of creation any more. Many people don’t know what to do with formless void any more. Many of us lost ability to make something out of nothing. We lost God in us.

Inability of many people today to cope with formless void is a very serious problem of our society. We ask what we can get without asking what we can do. Many people take the same attitude towards the church. Prof. Reg Bibby at the U of L found that most Canadians are still religious but they look for spiritual fulfilment in the same way as they go out for a good bargain in the shopping mall. They have no idea that religion is something they work on. They forget that the church is a community that we create. We can create good governments too, if we participate in the political process. That will make politicians more accountable to us. We complain about corruption in politics, but ignore the fact that many us don’t care about it. They don’t even bother to vote in the elections. A teenager said to me once, “The church is fun when you do stuff with friends together.” A hockey game is a lot more fun if your child is playing in it than watching it on a TV where a bunch of millionaires fooling around on ice. If you are in it yourself, it can be irresistible – it can be almost like a religion. It all comes down to rediscovering the joy of creating something yourself.

Every morning in a village in Africa where I lived, a long queue was formed in front of a nearby Mission Hospital. First thing in the morning, a senior nurse came out to do a quick triage to make sure the serious cases of illness were taken care of first. Then, a long wait began for the rest of the people. All of them came with food and drink to last the whole day. Yet, I have never seen a happier group of people. Most of them enjoyed visiting each other. Inevitably, some people would start to sing which became chorus when others joined. Some of them would dance with chorus. They knew how to amuse themselves with little. They never lost of the art of making something out of nothing. They never lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company. They might be poor, but richer than we are in creativity. We, on the other hand, lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company.

The closer you get to the way God created the world out of nothing, the happier you will be doing it. We must rediscover the joy of making something out of time you have with friends; of pieces of material, yards of wool, or a sack of flour. God looked at the formless void in the darkness with twinkle in the eyes thinking of all the things that he could create. If we lose sight of that joy of creation, we will all be customers and clients of the society someone else runs – couch potatoes who only know how to complain. We will no longer be citizens nor members. We must repent.

When a group of people, be it a husband and wife or a friends, can enjoy each others’ company with nothing to do in particular, it’s a sign of good relationship. It is time for us to rediscover creativity we have lost on the way to become civilized. God created the world out of nothing and was very happy with what he made. We should do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making something out of nothing

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11

January 8, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

I was once locked up in solitary confinement for 72 hours. It was during the bad old days of apartheid in South Africa. Racial discrimination was the law. I was going mad not because I was locked up but because I had too much time and nothing else. There was no book nor paper to read, no radio nor TV, not even a window to look out. Each minute felt like hours. I could not cope with having too much time. Time became my torturer. I had been so hooked to print, sight, and sound that without anything to read, listen, or watch, I was going crazy. As a minister, I should have been able to enjoy time meditating or praying. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t able to do that. I had lost capability to live alone by myself because I was used to living with too much stuff. Today, we are drowned in images, prints, and sounds, and lost the art of memorizing poems and stories; and making things out of nothing.

The book of Genesis says that before God created the world, there was nothing but a formless void in the darkness. God created the world out of nothing. He did not buy the world in the shopping mall, neither did he assembled the world from a kit nor like a dinner from a frozen package. He made it out of nothing. We too can create something out of nothing. God created us according to his image. We are like God to some extent. Our creativity is God’s image in us. Unfortunately, more and more our society is turning us into buyers and clients of things made by some other people. Many of us no longer use our creativity. After God created the world one creature at a time, he looked at it and said, “That’s good!” There is an enormous pleasure in creating things out of nothing.

One of the joys of living in small communities like Southern Alberta is to find people still making things. You bake cookies and pies, and knit woolen mitten and socks. You entertain yourselves playing music and attending concerts by local choirs. But you must admit that likes of a lot of people in our community is rare nowadays. In big cities, many people don’t make things any more. One day in Toronto at a supermarket check-out counter, a woman in her thirties who stood behind me asked me what I was going to do with a sack of flour on my cart. She had no idea that she could make bread, cookies and pies out of flour.

Today many people buy everything ready-made including entertainment and sports. Today, sports for many people are not something you play. Sports is watching other people play sports. Entertainment for them is to sit and let other people entertain them. They don’t entertain themselves any more. They don’t make things any more. They buy everything ready made. They don’t remember the art of creation any more. Many people don’t know what to do with formless void any more. Many of us lost ability to make something out of nothing. We lost God in us.

Inability of many people today to cope with formless void is a very serious problem of our society. We ask what we can get without asking what we can do. Many people take the same attitude towards the church. Prof. Reg Bibby at the U of L found that most Canadians are still religious but they look for spiritual fulfilment in the same way as they go out for a good bargain in the shopping mall. They have no idea that religion is something they work on. They forget that the church is a community that we create. We can create good governments too, if we participate in the political process. That will make politicians more accountable to us. We complain about corruption in politics, but ignore the fact that many us don’t care about it. They don’t even bother to vote in the elections. A teenager said to me once, “The church is fun when you do stuff with friends together.” A hockey game is a lot more fun if your child is playing in it than watching it on a TV where a bunch of millionaires fooling around on ice. If you are in it yourself, it can be irresistible – it can be almost like a religion. It all comes down to rediscovering the joy of creating something yourself.

Every morning in a village in Africa where I lived, a long queue was formed in front of a nearby Mission Hospital. First thing in the morning, a senior nurse came out to do a quick triage to make sure the serious cases of illness were taken care of first. Then, a long wait began for the rest of the people. All of them came with food and drink to last the whole day. Yet, I have never seen a happier group of people. Most of them enjoyed visiting each other. Inevitably, some people would start to sing which became chorus when others joined. Some of them would dance with chorus. They knew how to amuse themselves with little. They never lost of the art of making something out of nothing. They never lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company. They might be poor, but richer than we are in creativity. We, on the other hand, lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company.

The closer you get to the way God created the world out of nothing, the happier you will be doing it. We must rediscover the joy of making something out of time you have with friends; of pieces of material, yards of wool, or a sack of flour. God looked at the formless void in the darkness with twinkle in the eyes thinking of all the things that he could create. If we lose sight of that joy of creation, we will all be customers and clients of the society someone else runs – couch potatoes who only know how to complain. We will no longer be citizens nor members. We must repent.

When a group of people, be it a husband and wife or a friends, can enjoy each others’ company with nothing to do in particular, it’s a sign of good relationship. It is time for us to rediscover creativity we have lost on the way to become civilized. God created the world out of nothing and was very happy with what he made. We should do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making something out of nothing

Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Mark 1:4-11

January 8, 2006 by Tad Mitsui

I was once locked up in solitary confinement for 72 hours. It was during the bad old days of apartheid in South Africa. Racial discrimination was the law. I was going mad not because I was locked up but because I had too much time and nothing else. There was no book nor paper to read, no radio nor TV, not even a window to look out. Each minute felt like hours. I could not cope with having too much time. Time became my torturer. I had been so hooked to print, sight, and sound that without anything to read, listen, or watch, I was going crazy. As a minister, I should have been able to enjoy time meditating or praying. I am ashamed to say that I wasn’t able to do that. I had lost capability to live alone by myself because I was used to living with too much stuff. Today, we are drowned in images, prints, and sounds, and lost the art of memorizing poems and stories; and making things out of nothing.

The book of Genesis says that before God created the world, there was nothing but a formless void in the darkness. God created the world out of nothing. He did not buy the world in the shopping mall, neither did he assembled the world from a kit nor like a dinner from a frozen package. He made it out of nothing. We too can create something out of nothing. God created us according to his image. We are like God to some extent. Our creativity is God’s image in us. Unfortunately, more and more our society is turning us into buyers and clients of things made by some other people. Many of us no longer use our creativity. After God created the world one creature at a time, he looked at it and said, “That’s good!” There is an enormous pleasure in creating things out of nothing.

One of the joys of living in small communities like Southern Alberta is to find people still making things. You bake cookies and pies, and knit woolen mitten and socks. You entertain yourselves playing music and attending concerts by local choirs. But you must admit that likes of a lot of people in our community is rare nowadays. In big cities, many people don’t make things any more. One day in Toronto at a supermarket check-out counter, a woman in her thirties who stood behind me asked me what I was going to do with a sack of flour on my cart. She had no idea that she could make bread, cookies and pies out of flour.

Today many people buy everything ready-made including entertainment and sports. Today, sports for many people are not something you play. Sports is watching other people play sports. Entertainment for them is to sit and let other people entertain them. They don’t entertain themselves any more. They don’t make things any more. They buy everything ready made. They don’t remember the art of creation any more. Many people don’t know what to do with formless void any more. Many of us lost ability to make something out of nothing. We lost God in us.

Inability of many people today to cope with formless void is a very serious problem of our society. We ask what we can get without asking what we can do. Many people take the same attitude towards the church. Prof. Reg Bibby at the U of L found that most Canadians are still religious but they look for spiritual fulfilment in the same way as they go out for a good bargain in the shopping mall. They have no idea that religion is something they work on. They forget that the church is a community that we create. We can create good governments too, if we participate in the political process. That will make politicians more accountable to us. We complain about corruption in politics, but ignore the fact that many us don’t care about it. They don’t even bother to vote in the elections. A teenager said to me once, “The church is fun when you do stuff with friends together.” A hockey game is a lot more fun if your child is playing in it than watching it on a TV where a bunch of millionaires fooling around on ice. If you are in it yourself, it can be irresistible – it can be almost like a religion. It all comes down to rediscovering the joy of creating something yourself.

Every morning in a village in Africa where I lived, a long queue was formed in front of a nearby Mission Hospital. First thing in the morning, a senior nurse came out to do a quick triage to make sure the serious cases of illness were taken care of first. Then, a long wait began for the rest of the people. All of them came with food and drink to last the whole day. Yet, I have never seen a happier group of people. Most of them enjoyed visiting each other. Inevitably, some people would start to sing which became chorus when others joined. Some of them would dance with chorus. They knew how to amuse themselves with little. They never lost of the art of making something out of nothing. They never lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company. They might be poor, but richer than we are in creativity. We, on the other hand, lost an ability to enjoy each others’ company.

The closer you get to the way God created the world out of nothing, the happier you will be doing it. We must rediscover the joy of making something out of time you have with friends; of pieces of material, yards of wool, or a sack of flour. God looked at the formless void in the darkness with twinkle in the eyes thinking of all the things that he could create. If we lose sight of that joy of creation, we will all be customers and clients of the society someone else runs – couch potatoes who only know how to complain. We will no longer be citizens nor members. We must repent.

When a group of people, be it a husband and wife or a friends, can enjoy each others’ company with nothing to do in particular, it’s a sign of good relationship. It is time for us to rediscover creativity we have lost on the way to become civilized. God created the world out of nothing and was very happy with what he made. We should do the same.

HIGH GAS PRICE MAY BE BLESSING IN DISGUISE

HIGH GAS PRICE MAY BE BLESSING IN DISGUISE

In 1979, I came back to Canada after 12 years of overseas service in Africa and Europe. The first sight shocked us was the size of cars. I guess I had forgotten how big North American cars were. My 15 years old daughter said, “What do you do in there?” During those days, I guess it didn’t matter how big a car was and how much gas it burned, gas being so cheap. Cars were made like perishables with poor quality. By then, I had driven in three continents and in Japan. I realized that, on the average in Africa, Europe, and in Japan, gas was at least twice as expensive as was in Canada. All other types of energy were equally more expensive.rn

Did we suffer discomfort and inconvenience because of high energy cost? No. In fact, we were more comfortable in Europe: things were better made thus lasting longer – less waste, and public transport was cheap and convenient. In Europe and Japan often trains take less time than airplanes from downtown to downtown.

I think that we in North America have been spoiled by cheap energy and have become lazy, while people in other parts of the world advanced way ahead of us in technology to deal with the days of less fossil fuel. Already thirty years ago, every household in Cyprus had a solar panel on the roof, for example. Wind-turbines around here and everywhere were the technology developed in Denmark. Hybrid cars are Japanese. High price of energy has a benefit, believe it or not. It forces us to develop renewable source of energy and new technology.rn

I see the end of the use of fossil fuel in my life time, because of increasing demand from emerging economies like China and India hiking price daily. We will soon be in a real trouble hanging on to the old technology dependent on cheap non-renewable energy. North Americans are ingenious people. It’s not too late. I think high price of gas forces us to move toward that direction.