Friday, March 30, 2012


For the first time in nearly two weeks, I sit in Japan, with a reliable wi-fi signal, and with enough mental energy to write. The last two weeks have been a wild ride, as exactly two weeks ago, I was packing so that I could leave for Thailand early the next morning.

The Senior Council chose "Ambassadors 24-7" as their theme for devotions during the week--something to focus their interactions with those who we would encounter over the course of the week. Several Senior Council reps had approached me about a month ago and asked if I would be willing to give the message on Sunday (our first full day at the Maekok River Village Resort), to set the tone for the weeks' devotions.

So, I devoted several weeks' worth of thought to the concept of ambassadorship: what does it mean for humans to be ambassadors, what does it mean for me to be an ambassador and then most importantly, what does it mean for the Seniors to be ambassadors?

I started to commit my thoughts to writing several days before leaving, and did a good amount of typing on the plane to Bangkok. Here are the detailed notes for the reflection that I gave (a rough approximation of what I said; I try to push myself to speak extemporaneously and so deviated from my notes at several points, and the wording was largely different from what you see here):

2nd Corinthians 5: 17-21:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

How many of you have heard this from your parents before?

“Your behavior was an embarrassment to this family!”

or perhaps the preemptive,

“Please don’t embarrass this family!”

I remember one time when I heard something like this. It was during my sophomore year of high school, during a Spring Choir Concert. So, almost exactly 10 years ago. At this particular concert, I had a friend who was sitting in the front row, right up close to the risers. He decided that it would be funny to try and make me laugh while I was on stage with the Concert Choir, trying to sing. So, he started making faces. I tried my best not to look at him, to look at the director instead, but eventually I did break into silent, shaking laughter during a particularly somber piece. Embarrassed, I vowed revenge. During the next song, I made faces... horrible, grotesque and silly faces while I was singing, occasionally looking my friend square in the eyes. I felt a sense of satisfaction when he had to bury his face in his hands while people around him glared at his disruptive laughter in annoyance. However, my shenanigans had not gone unnoticed:

On the car ride home, my mother turned to the backseat and said to me

“Tonight, you were an embarrassment to this family!”

I remember thinking at the time, “why should she care? It’s not like she was the one who people were staring at. If she did something dumb, then she’d have the right to be embarrassed, but why should I be charged with embarrassing her when it was me on stage and not her?”

Perhaps the answer is more obvious to you than it was to the 16-year-old me. You see, I simply could not comprehend the fact that people would watch my behavior and make assumptions about my parents, about my family.

“That Gibson boy’s acting weird again... must run in the genes.”

“He must not be getting enough attention at home and so he needs to make a scene in public!”

“That boy’s parents obviously didn’t know how to teach him good manners!”

...that kind of talk. You see, just by the fact that I was their son, I represented my parents, my family, in just about everything I did. My successes always came back to my parents as complements. My failures always came back as embarrassments.

Like it or not, just by being me, I am an ambassador for my family. Same for you in your family.

There are three truths that I would like to bring before you this morning and the first is this:

  1. As humans, we are all ambassadors for someone else.

We can talk about non-conformity and individualism all we want, but here’s the reality: unless you live alone in a cave out in the woods and never interact with anybody else, you are an ambassador. You represent the values and interests of someone else as the world watches. Our lives are dense with connections, and those connections make us ambassadors, representatives in ways that we might not even realize. So, let’s unpack this. Who are we ambassadors for? Who do we represent? Gonna do the teacher thing here: turn to the person next to you and in 30 seconds, just share 4 or 5 different people or groups who you represent.

Okay, let’s hear what you’ve got:

(let students contribute ideas to form a list)

As you can tell, there are a lot of levels to our ambassadorship, so many connections that we have and opportunities to represent others. It is fundamental to our nature as human beings to reflect, to represent, to ambassador for someone else. We don’t get to choose whether or not we are ambassadors, though we do get to choose how we handle the responsibility. Out of all of these connections and relationships that make up the fabric of our lives, one stands out as being the most important...

This brings me to the second truth, that...

Point 2: We are all ambassadors of Christ

2 layers:

-Generally, as human image-bearers of God.

Mostly this is what Bible class has been about... the whole “Creation” thing and living up to the purpose for which God created us. This is the idea that we bear the unmistakable stamp of God’s workmanship, and not only his workmanship, but his likeness, and that whether or not we or others identify it in these terms, we represent Christ with every single breath we take. Very philosophical, and actually a lot more philosophical than I care to dive this morning.

-I know that for me, it’s easy to stay in this zone of philosophical and seemingly abstract ideas as I teach, and it’s easy to overlook what is obvious and concrete. The second layer is the one that I wish to focus in on this morning... so yes, I do believe that we’re ambassadors of Christ in a general sense, but we’re also ambassadors of Christ in a very specific, concrete sense as members of the CAJ community.

A lot of people who we meet this week only know this much about us: we’re a group from the Christian Academy in Japan. You’re used to the name; you’ve gotten into the rhythm of going to school each day and even simply abbreviating our school’s name to CAJ. But when you back up and look at it with fresh eyes, it’s all there in the name: Each of us is a representative of Christian Academy in Japan, and there are so many implications to this.

First, we are representing Japan. This became so obvious last year when literally everyone at the resort looked to US for some idea of what to do when the earthquake hit in Myanmar on last year’s trip. Like we were experts or something! But they knew we were from Japan and made what must have seemed to be logical assumptions about us. It reminds me of the poems you wrote for me last year in which you talked back against the stereotypes that people might make about you. Yes, I’m from Japan; no, I can’t feel the ground and predict an earthquake.

We are representing international schools. One thing I truly treasure in your class is the diversity: within your numbers, there are so many different heritages represented: Japanese, Korean, American, Canadian, New Zealand, Filipino, Indian, and if I’m missing any others, I apologize. What people think and believe about these other countries, and perhaps even international schools may be shaped by how they see you--the interactions that others witness, the words that others hear you speak.

Finally, and most importantly, we are representing Christ. Paul says as much in the excerpt from the letter to the Corinthians that I read.

Taking a closer look back at verse 20:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

Paul knew this was true of this fledgling Christian community in Corinth, and it is true of any community which identifies itself as Christian: we are ambassadors of Christ!

Now perhaps some of you are thinking, “Agggh, I didn’t sign up for this and I don’t want this responsibility.” Doesn’t being a part of any community carry responsibilities along with it? Doesn’t simply living in community mean that you have a duty to represent that community fairly? I mean, what could happen if we were careless or unintentional about how we represent our community?

To refer again back to another term I taught you in English and Humanities last year, the label of Christian has a lot of different connotations to it. Depending on who you speak to, “Christian” may evoke feelings of admiration and respect. It may also evoke feelings of bitterness and resentment. We know full well what behaviors and words can lead to each perception. I’ve heard both sides from others. I enjoy traveling and some of my most peaceful and relaxed moments come in meandering through Narita airport as I wait to board, or in simply sitting and enjoying a long flight. Inevitably when I travel, I have conversations with new people who are always curious to know why I live in Japan. If I tell them that I teach at a Christian school, the responses range from “Oh, like a missionary school? I’ve heard that missionaries have dedicated so much to helping out in the areas most damaged by the tsunami.” Other times, it’s simply ended the conversation, and the other person acts like they hadn’t been talking to me. There can easily be a perception of severity, of legalism, of judgment. And ultimately, of hypocrisy. We know how damaging hypocrisy is in a community, how damaging our limited human concept of judgment is. You know what? This happens at CAJ. I won’t try to pretend otherwise. But you know where else it happens? Every Christian school. It’s a struggle that just about every Christian community faces at some point because people are broken and a lot of the time, that is just really tough to admit. However, is that the end of the story? Is that all there is to CAJ? Of course not! We know that our community has a deep capacity to care, to enfold, to encourage. It was very interesting and somewhat surreal to have the accreditation team tell us in an official report several weeks ago that one of our strengths was indeed how caring our community was... listed next to points about finances and educational practices, it stood out.

How sad is it, though, when hypocrisy, legalism and judgmental, exclusive attitudes are the first things that some people think of when they envision a Christian community, when we know all of the good that happens as well?

This brings me to the third and final truth, which is both a calling and a challenge: Live out the love of Christ. Tagging onto what I referred to about our caring community: Every one of you in here is deeply cared for. I hope you realize that, and feel that. I assume and at least hope that your families care, but I know for a fact that your teachers care for you, that your friends care for you, that your classmates care for you. I know, because I’ve seen this lived out on day-to-day basis, over the course of several years. You are cared for because you have value that runs as deep as your identity as a creation of God, and filled to the brim with unique insights, personalities and capabilities. We are loved by each other, and loved by the one who made us, and this love cannot stay bottled up. We must in turn love and encourage all of those around us. When we do any differently, do any less... that is what generates the stereotype of austere, Puritanical and unloving Christians--pharisees who hold others to a standard that they themselves cannot reach.

Let’s look back at Paul’s letter, verses 18 and 19:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed us to the message of reconciliation.”

Our job is not to keep a checklist of the ways in which other people have messed up. Yes, in any good community there must be accountability, but judgment doesn’t belong to us. Instead, we need to be absorbed in the task of showing God’s love to others. This means breaking out of our comfort zone and interacting with others!

As ambassadors, we are constantly being watched by those around us. That’s the nature of the job--we are meant to live with respect to the values and interests of the one we represent so that everyone will see. At school, the eyes of the entire school community are naturally drawn to you: you’re the oldest group of students on campus, you’ve got facial hair, some of you, you’ve got the cool shirts with the superman logo, you’ve sold junk food to parents, peers and children alike, you sit, talk, laugh, study and get distracted in the Senior lounge as underclassmen and middle schoolers look on in jealousy or admiration. Here, you’ll be watched by so many small children, for many of whom you may be the most real exposure to Christ that they will ever see. So, what is your rendition of Christ going to look like?

I ask you this not to freak you out, not to paralyze you to the point that you don’t dare move for fear of messing something up. I ask you this to call you to a standard I know you are capable of because I’ve seen you do it for each other: you are a class that cares for those within it. You’re fairly attentive to each other’s needs (at least that was true when you were in my classroom), and I challenge you this week to show that same level of care and love to others. This may not be easy or comfortable, but it’s what you were created for, and it is how you can be a good ambassador, an agent of healing and reconciliation. For you are all ambassadors--that is inescapably a part of who you are as humans, and as members of this body, of CAJ, you are ambassadors of Christ. In these things, we have no choice. So I call you to take this role to heart and regardless of what your relationship to Christ is, to strive to be a good representative and to love those around you.

I’ll close with the prayer of Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


Friday, March 23, 2012


The older I get, the more I feel like I become aware of just how fleeting life is. Tonight marks the last evening of the Senior Thailand trip. Tomorrow, we will travel back to Tokyo by means of a varied (almost comical) series of transportation modes, which will include boat, elephant, van and plane, at the very least.

This was my third time chaperoning, making me a veteran chaperon. I'll never forget that first trip, where I felt so far out of my element, so thoroughly unhelpful, so frustratingly in the way. It doesn't seem like all that long ago.

This year, stepping out of the van into the warm ThaTon night air was a familiar homecoming. I felt at ease and capable the whole week, not at all out of place. The week seemed to fly past. I knew it would, even as I was unpacking my suitcase on that first night. With six activity and project-filled days ahead, the week looked like a long one, but I knew better.

Now, it's Friday evening, and all of the "wills" have aged into "dids". All that's left is to settle down for one more sleep in this serene setting, pack our bags and leave. As I write, I am sitting outside in the courtyard between the dorm buildings that have been home for 45 Seniors and 6 chaperones this past week. It's past 10, but the air is warm and carries with it both the memories and promises of summer. The students have just gone to their rooms after a good day of work (they finished pouring the concrete on the work-project that they funded: the floor of what will soon be a new canteen for a hill-tribe school). They enjoyed a peaceful evening of bonding, relaxation and worship with their classmates. Several have even just discovered emails of college acceptance, and are celebrating with their friends. All of these happenings hold a particular significance to me as their teacher--this class of Seniors is special to me, as they were the first whole class that I taught for English and Humanities, and are a group with whom I feel connected. What happens to them--the people they are, the people they'll become, where they'll go and what they'll do--all of this matters to me and so as they celebrate, I celebrate. Earlier this evening, we released large paper lanterns into the night sky and watched, entranced, as the floating beacons faded into tiny dots of light and then blackness. This evening is, as far as my life experiences allow me to say, about as near to a perfect moment as can be attained in this broken world. There's joy, love and a pervading sense of peace.

In times such as this, I wish that I could simply freeze time and savor every last bit of the moment, experience nothing else. Knowing this to be impossible, I do what I can: I simply sit outside in the warm night air and soak in all of it. I know that eventually, I'll need to go up to my room, put my head on my pillow and fall asleep, and that I'll wake up to a long, tiring day of travel, but for now, I sit.

I'm 26 years old as I write this. I wonder how many other people my age realize that these moments are to be sought and cherished. I wonder how many others drop everything for a single moment. I wonder how many others simply... sit.

Whatever may come tomorrow and in the weeks that follow, I know this much: I'm grateful to God for this single moment, for the taste of Shalom that He has provided, and I eagerly await the day when all of creation shall know such peace in the full.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mar. 11, 2012

3/11 is one of those dates that is permanently ingrained in my memory, perhaps even more firmly than 9/11. Of course, I'll never forget where I was or how I felt when I saw the footage of the plane hitting the second World Trade Center, but all of that was happening so far away that it seemed surreal.
I FELT 3/11, hid under my desk while my classroom tossed as it never had before. I saw the bewilderment, fear and tears as our entire school community waited outside in the cold, unable to connect to wi-fi or 3G for an agonizing half hour, not knowing what had happened, who was safe and who wasn't. I saw the live footage of floodwaters sweeping over familiar streets and villages a mere 4 hours to the North. I stayed at school till past midnight that night, waiting with students whose parents were stranded downtown by inactive train-lines and horrendous traffic. So many epic and unbelievable stories from that day, and the days that followed, but I could believe them because I was there. I will never forget 3/11.
I can no more explain the earthquake and all of the suffering and loss than anyone else can. However, this I know and believe:
God loves Japan. In the midst of the destruction, there have been countless stories of hope. Families reunited after believing each other to be dead, friends finding each other having feared the worst, people risking life and limb to find and save whoever they could.
God loves Japan. In the weeks following, the rest of the world rallied with financial aid. Volunteers poured in to begin to help with the clean-up. "Pray for Japan" became a global mandate.
God loves Japan. Relief centers, churches and missionaries have traveled North in droves, not to pass out Bibles and preach on street corners, but to help rebuild, to feed the hungry, to give shelter to the homeless--to simply show love to the hurting people of Northern Japan.
God loves Japan. Though there is still plenty of evidence of the tsunami's destructive swath, there's also evidence of healing--cleaning, organizing, fixing, restoring. Shops, restaurants, businesses, and schools are opening their doors again. Homes are being repaired and lived in again. Trees are being replanted, lives rebuilt. The destruction is the shape of the past; hope is the shape of the future.
God loves Japan.
The world is a broken place where people hurt each other and even the earth itself shakes and floods. Yet through all of this, God has a plan to heal, to renew. What a comfort this is, not only to believe, but to see signs of this healing all around me, to feel this healing each and every day. Japan is a loved country, not only by the people who live here, and people around the world, but by the same God who created the entire universe, who formed and placed Japan. May all who live here feel this love and turn to the God who loves them.

Thank you, LORD!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Under the Sakura

Each school-year that I've spent at CAJ has had its own unique feel... and it always seems to go by school-year, not calendar year. The difference between June 2009 and August 2009, June 2010 and August 2010, etc. is only two months of real-time, but so much changes from year to year. I'm sure I'll talk about my first year of teaching some other time, but for now, I want to focus on my second full year: 2010-2011. This was a school-year that I will never forget. It was chaotic and deeply traumatic on an individual, communal and national level. Still, despite the tragedies that contributed to chaos and grief, that school-year is, for me, characterized by an overwhelming feeling of peace and belonging. These feelings, which are still so powerful to recall, came from my identity as a teacher, particularly for my Humanities class. I was amazed when, about a month into the school year, I began to hear from various students that I had captured their imagination with my lessons and activities, made them care about learning and inspired them to do their best. Many in Humanities even said that our class felt like a family and that they looked forward to 2nd and 3rd period each day. I looked forward to those periods, too, and in hindsight realize that even as I tried to live in those wonderful moments, I still took them too much for granted.

One of my most peaceful memories that I have from the course of my entire life so far was watching my 2010-2011 Humanities class write Haiku while sitting at the picnic tables underneath the Sakura blossoms during our class-time in the first week of April. It was our first week back to school since Mar. 11, and we were in need of the routine, to be sure, but also (and more importantly) in need of care, encouragement and peace. Those two hours of class became the most important part of my day, and I can say with confidence that they were also very important to most of my students. At the time, I sometimes worried that I was not making up enough lost ground after the earthquake, that I was not putting a rigorous enough curriculum before the students. I know now that I struck exactly the right balance--we moved forward, kept learning, kept working... but more importantly, we actively took the time to support and talk to each other and together we processed the earthquake. It wasn't like group therapy--we still spent most of our time working hard, but at the same time, we weren't afraid to stop for a breather or to set a milder pace when we needed to. The students always did whatever task I asked them to, willingly and eagerly, with no complaining. The fact that they trusted me so much means more to me now than it did then, and I think is partly responsible for my own personal growth and recovery after the chaos of March. I'll still never forget the pain in my students' eyes and the pain that I felt when I absentmindedly started taking down posters from the classroom walls during the last week of school. My students were working on a project, and as I walked around to observe progress, I had started to pull the sticky tack off of a poster in the back of the room. One student noticed and pointed it out to the rest, who pleaded with me not to take down the posters just yet: "Mr. Gibson, if you take the posters down, then it's just a classroom and it's not our classroom." Another student commented that it felt like a piece of them was being ripped up with the posters and asked that I wait to clean up the room until after everyone was gone.

My heart has never felt quite so full as it did on our very last day of class last year: my students had contrived to keep me out of my classroom by arranging for the principal to ask me questions about the exam schedule. When I finally came into the room, my students had arranged cupcakes to say "We love you, Gibby" and "Trololololololo" across the desks at the front of the room. They gave me a scrapbook of quotes, messages, vocab words and inside jokes from the year, and a class photo in a home-made Calvin and Hobbes frame. The students said that I had been a blessing to them but in that moment, I felt like there was absolutely no way I could have blessed them more than they blessed me. I was Mr. Gibson. I was "Gibby". I will, as long as I live, remember that school-year, but not primarily for the natural disaster and losses. I will remember and cherish my classes, my students, my opportunity to grow into my identity as a teacher. I sincerely hope that group knows just how much I valued them (and still do).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Facebook and the mind

There's no getting around the fact that Facebook is a dominating social force is the world today. Earlier this evening, a student of mine posted as his Facebook status that there are more people on Facebook today than there were alive in the world 200 years ago. He didn't cite a source for this statistic (what kind of teacher am I?) but the point is that a significant chunk of the world's population is "plugged in" in a way that they never have been before.

There's a lot of good things I could say. Aside from the obvious "communication/keeping in touch/photo sharing tool" praises that I could offer, I've found it to be an engaging educational tool. This past week, I've been having my 9th graders create pages for revolutionary figures. They spent a week researching a figure that they chose from a list (from the Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, or French Revolution) and have been creating a fan-page as if they were that historical figure. This group of 9th graders is responsible and motivated, so I decided that I could trust them for what has been a trial-run for a project style that I may wish to develop in future years. I'm taking notes and figuring things out along the way: trying to keep privacy as high as possible by limiting the interaction to people within the class, making sure the students do not use their real names anywhere on the page, etc. Mostly, I've been impressed with the immersive potential of such a medium:

Facebook is addicting. I'm not assuming--I know firsthand. It's easy to get absolutely lost in the world of Facebook. As I pointed out to my students, it's also very easy to misrepresent your identity, or pretend to be someone/something you are not and do so consistently (even without realizing it... our online identity often differs greatly from who were are/how we speak and act face to face). All of this sounds bad, but I thought that since these feelings of anonymity, escape and freedom to recreate identity are part of the attraction to Facebook, why not channel them in a positive way?

Why not use the medium to become Martin Luther, Henry VIII or Jean Jacques Rousseau? Such a use of Facebook would add another dimension entirely to a standard research project. High school kids sometimes struggle with simulations, can be self-conscious about acting in front of peers, but they can relate to taking on a different identity on Facebook: everyone in the class admitted to acting even perhaps the slightest bit different in their online interactions versus their in-person interactions. Once the kids slip into the shoes (or boots, or culottes) of their historical figure, then they can walk around and see what happens. I told them that beyond the biographical information that they needed to include on their page (through the "biography section", as well as a series of status updates), they could be creative and that not everything needed to be documented fact or historically accurate. I did warn them, however, to try to stay consistent with the basic beliefs and character of the person they researched.

One feature I am requiring is a write-up called the "Eureka" note. For this, the kids must post a brief Facebook note (diary or journal style) from the perspective of their figure either during or after a major accomplishment (perhaps after finishing the Mona Lisa, observing the law of gravity or positing a heliocentric universe).

Students may also add another feature of their choice. One girl, researching Henry VIII, created a photo album (courtesy of portraits found on Google Images) of all of Henry's wives, crassly titled "My 6 wives". Each photo contained a comment on who the wife was, and why she died/was executed. This was pretty much exactly what I had envisioned when I first started planning this project!

Next week, once the students have completed their profiles, they will have a chance to interact with each other as their historical figures. I'm especially looking forward to this!

Facebook has the easy potential to be an intellectual and creative vacuum--a time waster, an escape from thought and care. Interestingly, some of those very qualities that make it a vacuum and an escape are also what allow it to be a valuable educational tool. For it to succeed as a tool requires careful thought and implementation on the teacher's part. In this, I'd give myself about a 'C', as I may have rushed into this project without enough forward planning, but inevitably, I'll learn a lot about what rules and structures need to be established to make this a consistently solid classroom activity.

In the meantime, the kids are having fun and seem to be not only learning facts about historical figures, but actually applying what they know! If critical thinking is the end-goal, I think I may have discovered a new means.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Watching the driveway

From when I was a child living with my parents, I still remember occasional nights when either my mom or my dad would work late. (Side-note to my parents: please do not read this and feel guilty; I never felt neglected. This just happens to be an appropriate metaphor for this post). On those nights (particularly if their arrival at home meant dinner-time), I would sit by the window and watch the driveway and wait.

We have a circular driveway with two entrances, spaced maybe 10 meters apart. I kept my eyes set on the western entrance to the driveway, because usually my parents would drive in from the west on Central Rd. So, with book, homework or video game in hand, I would sit and wait, and watch. Every so often, I'd see the glow of a pair of headlights coming up the hill, but the car would speed past the driveway... not my parents.

Finally, there'd be one pair of headlights that slowed down and the familiar sound of tire turning from pavement onto gravel would confirm that either mom or dad had arrived home. There were several occasions, however, where the unexpected would happen--I'd be watching one entrance to the driveway, and they'd turn into the other entrance, coming from the other direction. They had arrived at home, so I was happy, but despite my best efforts I had not seen them coming.

Now the point: (and yes, there's a point because otherwise, this post would very much resemble a story I wrote about buses back in Kindergarten... my family knows what I'm talking about ;-)

Life is sometimes like watching the driveway and waiting for your parents to pull in. There are events in our lives that we watch for, wait for: job opportunities, opportunities for advancement or education, friendships, relationships, what have you... we may not know when the milestones in our life will arrive, but we usually think we know where they are coming from, what they will look like.

Here's the thing, though: we don't know. Sometimes, the car pulls into the other driveway. Just because something happens differently than how you expected it to, is that an excuse to complain or reject an opportunity when it comes up unexpectedly?

If you're waiting for your parents to come home, would you complain because they took a different route home than usual?

Don't resist the unexpected... Accept it. Embrace it. It may turn out to be better than what you'd been waiting for.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Found in Translation, part 2

CAJ has its own unique culture and it is a culture that I appreciate tremendously. I feel like I am able to live out my career and calling in such a culture, and that's big.

That said, it's also a small community, and insular in some ways... really not unlike Lynden or Sioux Center. Not that this is bad, but one needs to be so intentional about getting out and engaging other communities, because that won't just happen without taking initiative. This is perhaps the biggest reason that I do not attend KBF, the church on CAJ's campus: I need time away from school.

Fortunately, I need only walk a few minutes to Reno's Bistro to build new friendships and participate in culture that, while not strictly Japanese, is also distinct from the culture of CAJ. It's a good first step in me fulfilling my hope to one day fearlessly engage with the broader Tokyo culture that I am living in. Not that I'd ever become a church-planter or give up my job teaching, but... it just seems like hiding in a comfortable cultural shell goes against what I've been called to.

Anyway, tonight was another one of those fantastic "I'm not in Lynden anymore" moments (they seem to happen less and less as time passes). It was "Blues night" at Reno's Bistro. Remember, Reno's is an American restaurant, run by a man who is originally from Florida and his wife, who is Japanese. The blues group, named "So What", were incredible, but likely were not what my American readers would imagine: the lead singer was a middle-aged Japanese man with graying hair, beard and pony-tail. Though his spoken English was accented, his pronunciation while singing was totally authentic.

The blues man, at one point during the night, began to press down the frets on his guitar with random objects from around the restaurant while he continued to play skillfully. Such objects included a beer bottle, a fork and the chair (pictured to the right)

My dinner companions: my American roommate Gabe, my Japanese friend Ayaha, and a couple who I met for the first time tonight: Elena and Shion. Elena is Russian, but grew up in Japan. Shion, who is Japanese, is a journalist who has, at various stages in his life, competed in the Olympic extreme winter sport of "Skeleton" and worked as a wine-maker in Italy. Shion and Elena have a pet toad that they found in downtown Tokyo and adopted.

To cap it all off, at one point during the night, Japanese hip-hop artist Soulja (who attended CAJ a decade ago, and whose Belgian mother is a colleague of mine) got up and sang "Stand by Me" as the group played back-up. Everyone in the crowded Bistro (mostly Japanese families) sang along at the top of their lungs during the chorus.

It was a fun evening, and something so different than what I expected I'd be doing on a Saturday night at age 25 back when I was in high school and college. Cultures are complex and rich, and though the culture of one person in one place may be different than that of another person in another place, cultures were not intended to exist in utter isolation from each other. We as humans have the capacity to interact and share, not just with the people who happen to be in our native bubbles, but people in other places and situations as well. My challenge to my readers in America is this: even if you do not travel overseas, what can you do to learn about another culture, to engage with another culture?

Trust me, it's worth it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Audit #1

As promised... I am reviewing my progress in meeting my New Year's Resolutions. I toyed with the idea of not even bothering with this post, but realized that to not follow through on the checkpoint I set would be as bad (if not worse) as not meeting my resolutions...

Which I haven't, by the way...

It's horrible, really--I set fairly basic goals for myself: cooking once a week, working out several times a week, writing several times a week...

In the past two months, I have:

-Cooked once (made stir-fry!)
-Worked out once (not even a work-out, really--I played basketball and volleyball with friends)
-Written less than 3 times a week on average

What's more, I've felt more stressed, been irritable and tired, shown a consistent lack of patience and grace.

Worst of all, I feel as though I've drifted from God. This hasn't been an active "stick it to the man" thing so much as its been me keeping myself too busy and preoccupied to spend substantial time in prayer. Scripture reading has become mechanical and I rarely take time to meditate on what I've read.

I don't want this. My heart is so stupid and uncooperative sometimes and my head knows it. Unfortunately, my head trying to desire God on its own is something like a blind man drawing a map of the major train lines in Tokyo for a lost tourist.

So, results of this audit:
Yes, I'm pitiful in my inability to meet the standards I set for myself... but this month is not going to be about trying to start working out, cooking or writing regularly (though I won't actively resist doing those things). This month must be about reconnecting with my LORD and Savior on a heart-level, not just on a "I read my Bible and pray everyday therefore I'm a Christian"-level.

My prayer is like that of John Donne's: "Batter my heart, O three-personed God!" Invade. Conquer. Remove all distractions, all excuses, all pretenses. I'm a busy person, but I need to live out the truth that there's not a single task I have that trumps my relationship with you.