the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

crying in class tonight

At Bible class tonight, using the new text, the last question was "have you received the Bread of Life?"  The lesson was about Jesus feeding the 5000.  The other questions didn't quite lead up to it, and I was kind of surprised to read it myself.  

And to top it off, the pastor was out of town on business, and the teacher who usually helps me had a YWCA board meeting.  So, it was me and two students.  

After some discussing about what "receiving the Bread of Life" means, R-san said her mother and  younger brother believed in Jesus and had received baptism, but she never had.  On saying this, she started to tear up a little.  

Whether she saw this or not, W-san chimed in that she believed in Jesus and was baptized about three years ago.  However, she also believes people like Buddha and Mohammad were good teachers. While W-san was talking, R-san had a few tears running down her cheek which she tried to dab away with a tissue.  .  

While I think the atmosphere was fairly open, it didn't look like a subject R-san wanted to talk about more at this time.  R-san has been the most devoted student so far.  She always comes on time, and is willing to be involved in the lesson.  She's been looking for something, and it looks like she found something to think about.  

I'm not sure I handled the situation well, but I'll follow up the next time I see her.  I want to make sure she knows that whatever her opinion is, whatever she believes, where ever she's at, she's always welcome.  And if she wants to talk about it, I want to know why it's such a big deal for someone with two baptized family members to talk about baptism.  I know she's the odd one out, but I didn't think just mentioning it would cause such strong emotions.

If you think of it, please take the time to pray for her - and all my students.  We could all use it.  

Saturday, May 23, 2009

my first two japanese books!

just bought my first two books! 500 yen and this should keep me busy for months :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Body Temp in C

With over 100 cases of the new flu in Japan, I thought everyone out there would like to know:

Normal body temp in Celsius is about 36 degrees.

If you have a temp higher than that, be sure to get sure to get some rest. ;)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A good Sunday

For all these years, I've been going to Japanese church not understanding much.  Finally today something (a lot of things) happened.

DL wanted to go and see church this morning, so we went together.  Church words are kind of special anyway, and that just makes them hard in Japanese.  Even though I've been sitting listening to them for three years it's still difficult for me. 

I consulted my dictionary about twenty times just during the message.

At the end of the service, there were the regular wastes of time.  Reading the activities in the bulletin.  Practicing a new hymn (at this point, all four Koreans left), then the entire congregation stands in one big circle, passes the mic around, and introduces themselves one by one so that you have almost no chance of remembering anyone's name.  Then there was 15 minutes where everyone cleans the sanctuary.  Then everyone set up tables for the meal.  DL made it through all this, but left before the meal started.

I remember the feels of being completely lost in all this.  Actually, many times in the past two years I just saved myself the trouble of feeling lonely and embarrassed and left out right. 

But the Togi-juku principal said she wanted to eat with me, so I wanted to stay.  She mentioned she would come to the Japanese lesson with me and FT if TA and AA came too.  She REALLY wants to come and talk with them if it would level up their Japanese.  But we ended up getting separated. 

I sat and talked with the children's church leader, Mr. Tsugisawa, instead.  He's a really hard worker.  He's and elder too, and also leads the order of service sometime.  We had a serious chat about why people come to church and what we should do to encourage that. 

We didn't agree on how to do that, but we both had a chance to consider new points of view.  And I'm glad he gave me the chance to talk about something serious.  Since my level of Japanese isn't great, people who find the conversation embarrassing can write me off anytime they want.  Mr. Tsugisawa usually takes time to listen to me.  I really appreciate him for that.

Then, after the meal, there was a Seinenkai 青年会, which roughly translated means "young person's group".  There is "High School group" that is regularly held, but no one comes.  So I thought this group was like that.  But the pastor's wife said to me, "Why don't you go take a look at the Seinenkai?" "青年会ちょっと行って見て。"

This is the best part.  What I found at the "young person's group" were two men, (one in his 50's and one in his 40's) and a woman in her 30's.  They were studying the Bible, discussing what it means, and talking about how they could apply it to their lives! 

All these years I've been thinking there must be something like this at church but I'd never seen it or known how to ask.  Even though there were only a few people there, I was so pumped to be there!

Of course, I didn't understand everything they said, but that's not the point.  The point is that there are people studying the Bible on their own who think it's important for how they live their lives! 

The man in his fifties, Mr. Ota, was particularly adept.  Mr. Ota is kind of the janitor at church, and I always had the feeling there was more to him than meets the eye.  They were studying the parable of the talents and he said he had always thought the money is not literally money, but what each of us does with the Word of God that we have stored in our hearts.  He then gave examples of times he has used scripture when he was feeling lonely, or when a (non-Christian) friend was miserable and asked the others if they had any examples like that or any scripture that they particularly love. 

At the end, the woman noted how sad it was that there were only a few people at the "young people's meeting".  She especially wanted some more female participation (a rare problem).  This meeting is only held on the third Sunday of each month, and frankly, it's kind of hard to find.

We then talked about ways to publicize the meeting both at church and outside of church such as posters, post cards, encouraging other "young" church members to come etc.

This is the kind of stuff that gives me strength to keep going.  How is it that I've only now found it now that I'm ready to leave?  Yet another reason I have to come back. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

As I was wondering about what to do next - and what to do after that - I remembered this song.  Things come back to you at interesting times.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where are all the young people?

After the Mother's Day visit to the graves today there was a "bring your own bento" picnic. 

I'm pretty sure everyone there except for the pastor and I were retired.  I heard them say things like:

1) "to bad there aren't many young people here anymore."
2) "we used to walk all the way here when I was a student.  Students these days could never do that."
3) "all the young people are probably at the Fukuin Church"

Frankly, all the whining got under my skin, but I couldn't find a good way to talk back so I just sat there and listened.  Here are the responses I wish I could have said:

1) If you would schedule your events at times that are convenient for working people - most events are scheduled at about 10 am on weekdays when anyone under the age of sixty is either working or in school - young people might come.  Also, if you would invite your own family here, there might be a few more young Christians here.

2) I'm sure walking uphill both ways to school was very good for your health, but isn't it nice that students these days only have to walk to school uphill one way?  Grow up.  Acting like you used to be stronger than students are now isn't mature.  It's just a waste of time.  Maybe you could try putting yourself in their shoes instead of telling them that shoes used to be bigger when you were young. 

3)  I've been to the Fukuin Church and the people there aren't any younger.  Absence of youth is a problem religions have throughout Japan and the world.  Quit looking at the spec in your neighbor's eye.    Stop wasting time gossiping about your neighbor and do something about it yourself.

Mother's Day with the UCCJ

I just got back from the Mother's Day visit to the graves with my church.  After the regular service, there was a special trip to the Christian graveyard south of town (just across the road from 座頭石 zatoishi) .  Mostly only elderly people with family who had died went.

Interesting history.  This graveyard (墓地 bouchi) was bought and founded only 40 years ago.  That means since most of the people today were in their 60's and 70's they were 20 to 30 years old when the real estate for the graveyard was bought.  And they probably helped build it.

Before this place, the Christians were buried in the Buddhist graveyards.  Their burial was prefixed with chanting of sutras and offerings to the ancestors.  Since the Christians obviously didn't want this kind of funeral, they bought separate plots and monuments. 

In the Christian cemetery, the bodies are still cremated, but only flowers (not food or drink offerings) are put on the graves.  The large obelisk in the middle holds all the cremated remains.  On the front it says "Salt of the earth, Light of the world".  The gravestones are dedicated to families, and it looks like a name is added every time another family member dies.  This is ironic since there aren't many Christian families here anymore.  I imagine there are also a few gravestones for single Christians or Christians who were the only Christian in their family.

The worship service at the graves was similar to a regular service, it had hymns, prayers, and a short sermon.  Sometimes I worry that the order of service and traditions have become more important than the meaning itself (i.e. the saving grace found only in Jesus Christ).

Anyway, here are some pictures of the graveyard.  Have a look:

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Christ is one, but...

Here we go again. MG, who was dismissed by the principal on Friday is coming again today at about 10am. I talked to the chaplains about it this morning.

The high school chaplain already had his business card from the principal. She saw the word "evangelical" on it and dismissed it immediately. When I tried to talk to her about it, she said, "This school is UCCJ. He's an evangelical. We have our differences and we have nothing to talk to him about."

"Christ is one!"

"...but we have our differences."

"You could at least meet him."

"I'm busy today. I have a lesson at that time."

We (Christianity in Japan) can't afford to nurse these petty differences. :(

For what it's worth. This is only one step away from her attitude when my UCCJ bosses came from Tokyo and she was "busy".

The junior high chaplain is more open to at least meeting MG. Since he isn't the religion department chair, he really can't do much. But it's a start.

UPDATE: on top of that, I just went into the teacher's office to talk to another teacher, and she didn't have a lesson! When I asked her about it she said, "Oh, sorry. I REALLY thought I had a lesson but I didn't." Isn't that convenient?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Justice in Japan

Before you complain about how unfair Japan is, remember how unfair it used to be. :)

My "Christian" School

This is a more major issue than the last post. Writing it here is mostly just an effort to get it out of my head.

On Monday, I met MG (for the first time in about a year). And he asked some fairly simple questions about my school. The answers to which I was ashamed to say - to put it frankly.

MG came to my school last Friday asking our principal if he could hold a Christian concert in our chapel. Our principal replied (and this sounds just like him), "What? Is this one of those religious things? Do you know one of those religion department people? Go ask them."

Those "religion department people" are actually chaplains, and the "religion" itself is actually called Christianity. This was curious answer coming from the principal of a Christian school, so MG asked him if he was a Christian. The answer was a flat "no, of course not."

MG was of course surprised by the answer. And frankly it's sad that we have all gotten used to it here at Seiai.

He then asked me if I think our chaplains are Christians. I said I believe that one is, and I'm not sure about the other one.

He asked me how many of our teachers are Christians. I could think of five off hand. However, these teachers don't get along well with the chaplain whose belief is sketchy at best. And three of them don't go to church very regularly. There are about another eight teachers at school who go to church, but their belief is sketchy.

When I say their belief is sketchy, I mean that they seem to not understand that God is the only God, that they are sinners and that Jesus Christ is the only forgiveness for their sins.

What is the point of going to church for years, even decades, if you don't believe in Jesus?

This is the sad reality of my school that I had to explain to someone, again.

He then continued to tell me the story of a Christian mother in his congregation who had gone to great lengths to get her daughter into our school. The mother had hoped that years of Bible classes and chapel services at school might help to push her daughter over the edge and help her to make her faith her own.

Instead, the daughter came home saying the topics being taught in Bible class and the themes of sermons being taught at our school were not even similar what she had heard at church. To be fair, the daughter was not the best expert about the Bible or Christianity before she came to our school.

But still, if even someone with little experience in Christianity can tell that something is not quite right...

This is not the first time, Christians outside my school have asked me if my school is really Christian. I have had both foreign and Japanese Christian ask me that. I've even had both foreign and Japanese non-believers ask me that. Why don't they know?

I have mentioned these things a million times at school. At first I thought it was the language barrier. But now I am sure it's not that. I think staff here just don't have time and don't want to listen.

What is the purpose of this "Christian" school? It seems to be tests, test scores and enrollment. And those are all well and good, but those are the goals of any school. What is the purpose of this CHRISTIAN school? You'd think we could at least tell people about Christianity properly.

When I renewed my contract, the president of the academy asked me if I had anything to say to him. "なんか、お話がありますか?" Having never only met the man twice in my life, I had nothing to say. But this may have been the first time anyone actually took the time to listen to me. If he or anyone else ever gives me that chance, I will have something to say. It will start with:

What is the purpose of this school?

And end with:

Does this school tell people about Christianity? and encourage people to believe in justification through faith in Jesus Christ?

Secretly, this is a large part of the reason I am leaving this school. If anyone would take the time to really listen to me, I would explain it, but...

Family Alters

If you're in missions in Japan, this topic is always coming up. And while it's not a main focus, it is or some importance. The topic of Butsudans and Kamidanas. Are these religion or just filial piety? Is filial piety religion? Is civil service religion? Is evolutionism religion? etc etc.

Instead of answering all those questions. I'm going to tell a story. And then ask for your opinion.

On Monday, by chance I got to see some new land some missionaries had acquired to build a more central place of worship. It was an old farm house next to a large storage building. Although in meager condition, the farm house itself was old, huge and looked to have been very nice at one time.

It also had a very nice Butsudan. MG said, "But I'm a Christian so I'm going to burn it." I fail to see the logic here. I am also a Christian, but I see no need to burn the Butsudan. I suggested maybe selling it back to a furniture dealer. Using his Biblical knowledge, LE mentioned the Ephesians and how they had burned their books of magic despite their value (albeighit, I would give the Butsudan to the furniture store).

That's true about the Ephesiands. But the Ephesians actually believed in those books of magic. And we don't believe in Butsudans. We just happened to acquire one through the purchase of a house.

I do remember that the Lord told the Israelites to destroy all the foreign idols in the promised land. However, I don't remember Jesus destroying any idols. And while Paul preached against the Greek gods, I don't remember him burning down any temples either.

In more recent history, during the Waring States Period when the first Catholic Missionaries came to Japan, many warlords were ruling under the banner of Shinto or Buddhism. When a Buddhist warlord over took a Shinto kingdom, this necessitated the burning down of the Shinto shrines - and vice versa in the opposite case.

Some warlords did become Catholics. And there is evidence that Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were burned down in the name of Christianity and the current warlord.

This was around 1600 or 1700. I would prefer to distance myself from this far away past. If MG would like to start off relations with his new neighbors by burning an object that is sacred in their eyes. That's his perogative. All I'm saying is, there might be a more subtle way to do things.

Of course we want to get rid of the Butsudan, but I'm sure there are many options which we have not thought of.

How about putting it out on bulk refuse day? Would that be less offensive? :)

The more major question we're dealing with:

Since the Christian God is ruler and creator of all the earth and demands we worship Him only. We cannot allow worship of anything else by people claiming to be Christians. But does this mean we need to be militantly against the more native religions?

I'm hoping there will be some discussion in the comments section.

I seem to have my best thoughts days after the actual conversation. So to those who were there, no hard feelings. I still love you, I especially welcome your replies and insights. I just posted my ideas here because I'm slow.

Japan Quote: Masks do matter

Originally from NeoJapanisme, then from here:

What I see in Japan, and maybe this is my own myth, is that behind all these notions of politeness, snobbism etc. The Japanese are well aware that something which may appear superficial and unnecessary, has a much deeper structural function. A Western approach would be: who needs this? But a totally ridiculous thing at a deeper level might play a stabilizing function we are not aware of. Everybody laughs at the English monarchy, but you'll never know.

There is another notion, that is popular now amongst American sociologist, the civilizations of guilt versus civilizations of shame.

The Jews and their inner guilt and the Greeks with their culture of shame. The usual cliche now is that Japan is the ultimate civilization of shame. What I despise in America is the studio actors logic, as if there is something good in self expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This stupid idea, that behind the mask there is some truth. In Japan, and I hope that this is not only a myth, even if something is merely an appearance, politeness is not simply insincere. There is a difference between saying 'Hello, how are you?' and the New York taxi drivers who swear at you. Surfaces do matter. If you disturb the surfaces you may lose a lot more than you account. You shouldn't play with rituals. Masks are never simply mere masks. Perhaps that's why Brecht became close to Japan. He also liked this notion that there is nothing really liberating in this typical Western gesture of stealing the masks and show the true face. What you discover is something absolutely disgusting. Let's maintain the appearances.

Monday, May 04, 2009

small dream

i havent told anyone yet, but my dream for coming back to japan is small and beautiful

or at least i think so

for a long time i've been wanting to just sit down and focus on a few things. but right now i seem to enjoy having my fingers in everything and knowing everyone

my dream:

come back, teach english at a college. have a bible study at my house once a week or so. teach the bible and the foundational christian truths. have some sort of community dinner once a week too. invite students and teachers to those. b active in a church too. find a wife who believes in all that and share that with her

its sounds pretty small, but making it happen will b pretty big.

what do u think? is my dream too small? :)