Monthly Archives: September 2013

Something Better

There are certain things the Japanese do less than well when it comes to hygiene. Hot water and soap, for example, one is hard pressed to find at public restrooms, making the admonition to “wash your hand’s a lot” in actuality no more than a cold water rinse. Other hygienic aspects, however, they do very well. There is no shame in wearing a mask when one is sick. Or when one is trying to keep from getting sick. Or when there are allergens floating around. Or to keep warm in the winter. Or to cover up a particularly nasty pimple. But I digress.

Being American, I seldom remember to grab a mask when I am sick, and it took the entire eighth grade at my school getting sent home for influenza last February for me to remember to wear one preemptively. It’s not in my habitual regime yet. Today I’m wearing one. I’m sick. I was sick all weekend, the kind where violent sneezes and coughs come out without sufficient warning to raise my hand to my mouth. I must admit, this is handy. I cough, the mask catches it, and I just keep on typing.

Today the mask has the added effect of making me feel ninja and stealth like. I’m on a new mission, and it is one that is being carefully executed. There are those who disagree. Even when they admit that changes are needed, they think I’m doing this the wrong way. And admittedly I’m probably taking too hard of a line. I know where I would like to be is pursuing an even harder line, but and adviser cautioned me to back off and do this gradually. Even my gradual version is raising protests.

What isn’t understood – what I need to explain – is that my desire to revamp the system is as much an indictment of myself as it is of anyone else. I biffed it last year. I knew I was called to Japan to pray, and you know what? I didn’t pray. Not nearly as much as I should have, anyway. I was distracted, constantly distracted, by the things of this earth. No one, not even those closest to me, realized or realizes the extent to which I did not fulfill my purpose last year. Reader, if you stay with this blog long you will find I am an extraordinarily open person. But that, that is too extreme to share in public, and there are few friends who would find themselves with a true answer should they care to ask.

This year? So far this year the line I am taking is only for myself: I’m choosing not to drink alcohol, not even a glass, not while I’m in Japan. My mental defenses are already steadily and constantly attacked. I don’t need to intake a substance that weakens them.

But there are other lines people don’t yet know about: Monday – Thursday I’m not checking my email or facebook outside of the 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. window. I found I was reading too many emails either early in the day or late at night, when I was too tired to properly absorb them. My time with God in the morning became neglected because I was busy online. I can’t have that. I refuse to have that. What’s more, I’ve decided that within that window, if I haven’t time to properly digest the email, I will cut and paste it into a separate file, to be read at my leisure during the day. People were encouraging me and I wasn’t fully absorbing the power of the encouragement. That is my fault, not theirs. I need to change. I have chosen to change. I refuse to keep living as I have been living. I am called to something better. And I want that which is better.

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Yesterday I took a personal day. What does that mean? Well, to me it means I just go and do something fun and I actively practice God’s presence. I converse with him during the day, but it’s generally not intercessory prayer. It’s more like soaking, and enjoying him as a friend.

A couple times now I’ve headed off to the absurdly small town of Sugaya. It’s three train stops away, and truth be  told, I don’t know how it got itself a stop. It’s that small. I first went there about a year ago. Looking for adventure, I stepped into my local train station, picked a town I’d never been to before, and bought a ticket. When I got there, I wondered if I should turn back. But I didn’t. I went for a walk and explored the rice fields, the mountains, the beautiful koi pond in someone’s front yard. The second time I went was last November. I bushwhacked through the wilderness and had a marvelous time.

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It hasn’t been easy here recently. There have been some breakthroughs in team dynamics and spiritual fervor. But that has also led to increased spiritual warfare. I’m fighting a lot, needing to reevaluate decisions and filter absolutely everything through what is healthiest for me and my team. So off I went to Sugaya, to just be.

Initially, I had planned to bushwhack to the same place as last November. But something drew me off to the side. Instead I followed a road, and it led me past a sign which was, remarkably, in both Japanese and English. It read, “Irimizu Limestone Caves.” So there I went.

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Irimizu is a limestone cave that people can enter. It costs roughly $5.50 to go into the first section and $7 to enter the second stretch. Saturday I limited my excursion to the first stretch. The second part requires a head lamp or flashlight, and I don’t want to enter that deep of a cave by myself. Just in case. Six guys came up behind me as I was looking at the sign, and I let them purchase their ticket first. If THEY take the B route, I decided, so would I. But they bought the A ticket.

No matter, it was still beautiful. Really slippery, really cramped, and really adventurous, made more so by the fact that even finding this place was completely serendipitous. No one had told me about it. I just went there. It was like God and I were on an adventure, and he had led me to this incredibly special place.

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After I left the cave I found a desolate path that I followed up into the hills. Then I returned to the road and followed the mountain twists for awhile, at one point bushwhacking a steep shortcut. It was glorious. I diverged from the road again, following another barely there path, to eat lunch as I looked out over the valley below. Then I followed the road back to the station. Water pouring out of the cave has been channeled by someone and used to form a simple machine.

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It pounds a grain, slowly, but consistently, day and night. It was awesome and reminded me of every pioneer book and old time village I have ever visited.

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Back at the station I realized I had an hour till the next train. So I followed a road, explored yet another path, and spent 15 minutes watching half a dozen junior highers play baseball. And then? It was time to go. I’d had a wonderful day, but I knew my legs had been sorely taxed, and it was time to leave the other adventures for another day.

Up until Saturday, my favorite place in Japan was this one spot in the Gion neighborhood of Kyoto, just down from the temple, looking out over a footpath. I still love that spot. But I think my favorite has changed. I think Sugaya is now my favorite place in Japan. God and I have had so many cool experiences there. There are so many adventures yet to have. You would look at this town and see…nothing. I look and see the place where my heart has been stirred and healed. But mostly just healed.

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Some day, if you come visit I will take you there, and I will try to explain how special and precious this ridiculously small town is. And you may or may not agree. But Sugaya will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Killing Frogs

I’m not really an animal lover. Sure, I like horseback riding and petting a cat and seeing
giraffes at the zoo, but I’ve never considered owning a pet, and I am that random person whose heart does not melt at youtube videos featuring kittens.

I don’t tell this to a lot of people – hardly any, really – because these statements make me sound cold hearted. And I don’t believe that is true of me. My heart is quite tender; it just happens to be directed towards God and people, not animals.

Then came July. My team was at a park, celebrating the birthdays of two of our members. A kid, probably in fifth grade or so, was hanging out and joined in our games. I didn’t see it first hand, but several eyewitnesses say that at one point this kid took a frog, grabbed it by the leg, and repeatedly hurled it against a tree until it was dead. People were horrified, and that shocked our Japanese friends. One teammate overheard two of our friends speaking to each other about the incident, and one of them said, “I guess they don’t do that in America,” as if the incident was quite common in Japan.

Having a heart that doesn’t melt at kittens and puppies has often made me feel like an outsider in American culture. The concept of, “Love me, love my dog” has made me not more affectionate to dogs, but better at hiding my feelings. Still, the American sensibilities have rubbed off on me. I wouldn’t dream of gratuitously killing a frog. The animals I kill I have a concrete reason for disposing of. Mosquitoes, centipedes, fruit flies, even house mice, I will terminate without batting an eye. But I am the one who defends spiders when my friends freak out. I don’t kill ants unless they are inside my house, and therefore like to bring friends. And I don’t kill frogs. I don’t have a reason to. They haven’t done anything to me.

And that is a smaller piece of a bigger picture that I am learning: Even when I feel like I don’t fit into American culture at all, I still carry American traits – in many cases those same
American traits that make me feel excluded – far more than other cultures do.

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