NATURAL RESOURCE IS INHERITANCE

Inheritance

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Grow Old – Canada

ART OF GROWING OLD

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

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

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

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

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

We are what we are, not what we do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

humans think in story

SYSTEMS CREATED BY IMAGINATION:

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

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

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

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

DEADLY ADDICTION

Addiction

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

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

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

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

I WAS READY TO QUIT RELIGION

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

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

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

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

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

A FROG IN A POT

FROG IN A POT

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

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

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

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

Lethbridge Japanese Garden is a pearl

NIKKA YUKO JAPANESE GARDEN

  • A PEARL OF FRIENDSHIP –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to read the Bible – 2

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE – II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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